Diaspora Families and Pastoral Care

Immigration is contributing to the growth of the Australian Christian community, with some of these diaspora families seeking out multi-ethnic rather than mother tongue culture congregations. The presence of these families brings tremendous blessing, but it can also create new challenges, especially when it comes to pastoral care, as they may operate with different family needs, values, practices and expectations. In this context, cultural intelligence (the capacity to function effectively cross-culturally), particularly CQ Knowledge and CQ Strategy, becomes significant.[1]

CQ knowledge involves learning about cultural variations appropriate to a given context. Three areas of knowledge development are crucial to address potential difficulties and barriers in cross-cultural pastoral care encounters.

Firstly, knowledge of the nature of family. For example, in diaspora communities the focus is often on the extended rather than the nuclear family. This may create certain challenges and struggles, such as revising the place and expectations around ancestor worship (especially when there are non-believing members of the family); negotiating financial support of families back in the homeland; processing how to care for aging parents and family members, especially if they are located at a distance; and working through family size expectations.

Secondly, an awareness of parental struggles and fear concerning maintaining the home culture (including native traditions and language) in the new context. This is one area where diaspora families usually experience significant tension, particularly around the time that children become young adults and seek to develop an identity of their own. The challenges of being a third culture kid, including the emotional and spiritual needs of straddling two worlds and confusion around ‘home’, are felt not only by the children themselves, but affect the family unit as a whole.

Thirdly, one needs to develop an appreciation of the influence of culture on how individuals view power distance, status, gender, vulnerability, uncertainty avoidance, etc., and thus how conflict and problems are usually addressed and managed.

An appropriate CQ Strategy will build on this knowledge platform, and will allow the pastoral carer to sustain appropriate relationship engagement. Generally speaking, greater attention needs to be paid to preparation for pastoral care encounters with families from diaspora communities. For example, planning for the cultural dynamics of verbal and non-verbal interaction will facilitate healthy communication and avoid potential areas of misunderstanding, while an awareness of cultural practices associated with the welcome, hospitality, and departure of guests will ensure that pastoral visitations run smoothly.

Culturally intelligent pastoral care will benefit the whole church, enabling long-term inclusion of diaspora families and growth of the congregation. Training material, resources and experienced practitioners are available to support and equip pastoral carers. If you would like further information or advice about a particular situation, please feel free to get in contact with me.


David Turnbull- Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Studies



[1] Livermore, David (2009). Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage our Multicultural World. Grand

Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.