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Moving Towards an Ever-Increasing Intercultural Future

The 2020 ARA Oration at the University of South Australia suggested that the future is intercultural. “Intercultural” recognises diverse contexts. And such contexts are not simply our future. Ethnicity, for example, is receiving increasing attention as seen in the Black Lives Matter movements in the US and Australia and the movements to cancel culture, especially with regards to institutions that express systemic Anglo-Celtic racial bias.

Other categories of diversity also contribute, including ability, socio-economic, political, sexuality, religion, generational, and gender. Such a mix can kindle tension. Individualism encourages us to advocate for our beliefs and practices to be the norm that others must accept. Division and difference can spark conflict and opposition. The Christian community is not exempt as reflected in a webinar entitled “Painful Legacies”[1] or in books such as Salt, Light and a City: Ecclesiology for the Global Missional Community: Volume 2, Majority World Voices[2] and Ghost Ship.[3]

Interculturality requires cultural intelligence, the capacity to function effectively within diverse cultural groups and promote inclusionary behaviour. One potential barrier to realising the intercultural vision relates to leaders having capacity to be intercultural in practice. Society is seeking such leadership. In Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age, Bordas highlights the task and personal attributes required for multicultural leadership: “An inclusive approach and philosophy that incorporates the influences, practices, and values of diverse cultures in a respectful and productive manner.”[4]

The Christian community is well-positioned to contribute to this global conversation in a powerful manner due to clearly articulated biblical and theological foundations for such engagement. The Jerusalem Council under the leadership of James, Paul, and Peter provides a powerful example of an inclusionary movement. The vision of heaven in Revelation 7 as a unified community worshipping around the throne of God despite the linguistic and ethnic diversity provides the platform for the position. Leadership development and formation for intercultural engagement becomes a priority.

The formation of intercultural leaders requires three complementary components, theological beliefs, cultural intelligence education, and intercultural experience. These components emerge from the author’s PhD research into cultural intelligence and clergy from two South Australian denominations, research completed particularly in response to the gap between the theological support for the intercultural vision and self-assessment of personal capacity for intercultural engagement.[5]

First, because theology influences a person's motivation and their commitment to develop cultural intelligence, comprehensive theological coverage is crucial. The greater the number of theological responses supportive of the multicultural church vision by clergy, the more likely an individual will be to express confidence in their capacity to operate in this space. Some of the key beliefs informing this capacity include: God’s heart for the multicultural church; clergy should learn other languages related to their congregation; and multiculturalism is beneficial in society. Furthermore, the processing of passages undergirding the vision for intercultural engagement is crucial for communicating the multicultural church vision. In the author’s research, only 10% of clergy listed Rev 7:9-12 as one of their key passages.

Second, intentional cultural intelligence education is required, a factor highlighted by the finding that over 50% of clergy rank in the low to moderate range for the standard 20-item CQ Scale instrument with CQ Knowledge being the weakest of four capabilities. Cultural intelligence can influence the formation of a healthy theology for intercultural Christian communities and create a confident desire for crossing boundaries in intercultural experiences. Education will address cultural captivity, develop empathy and knowledge for strategic planning for intercultural encounters and engagement, and equip for border crossing. Using a breadth of approaches is required, as is broadening clergy’s post-ministry training options for cultural intelligence development. There is an important relationship between the breadth of post-ministry formation education experiences around cross-cultural ministry and intercultural engagement and cultural intelligence. Several possible ways to offer education include having a cross-cultural mentor, reading (including foreign literature), and delivering traditional interactive education seminars.

Third, intentional intercultural experiences provide opportunities for learning through an action and reflection model. Intercultural knowledge is evaluated and strengthened through experiences such as living overseas for extended periods, language learning, and crossing cultures in multiethnic congregations.

The outcome will be leaders who can build bridges, address cultural value differentials, and transition the multiethnic community into a genuine intercultural functional community.

Tabor recognises the importance of these elements in ministry formation and curriculum design. Units aim to build cultural intelligence, incorporate cultural dimensions into theological reflection, and deepen the appreciation of others.

Capacity building for leadership to realise the intercultural vision becomes a priority for the Christian community as an integral part of its witness in a secular world.


[1] “Painful Legacies: Systemic Racism in America and Britain,” 15 August 2020, video, 1:29:03,

[2] Graham J. Hill, Salt, Light, and a City: Ecclesiology for the Global Missional Community (Eugene: Cascade, 2020). See

[3] A. D. A. Francis Williams, Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England (London: SCM, 2020). See

[4] Juana Bordas, Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2007), 8.

[5] David Turnbull, “Clergy and Cultural Intelligence: A Study of the Foundational Capacity of Clergy to Function Effectively as Multicultural Leaders in Multiethnic Communities Within the Baptist and Uniting Church Denominations in South Australia,” (PhD diss., Flinders University, 2019). See

[6] David Turnbull, “Clergy and Cultural Intelligence: A Study of the Foundational Capacity of Clergy to Function Effectively as Multicultural Leaders in Multiethnic Communities Within the Baptist and Uniting Church

Denominations in South Australia,” (PhD diss., Flinders University, 2019). See

David Turnbull 11

Head of Intercultural Studies

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