Skip to main content

Recognizing a Second Generation's Call

The Cambodian Fellowship’s older generation of elders and deacons with pastor Socheth Na (fourth from left). Deacon Sovann Rathanak (fifth from left) is now an elder on the younger generation’s leadership team.

When Socheth Na, founding pastor of the Cambodian Fellowship in Holland, Mich., retired in 2023, the Christian Reformed congregation didn’t have to experience a vacancy or seek to call a new pastor. Their leadership had prepared for a handoff, training and commissioning Sophat Duch seven years earlier. Gil Suh, pastor of San Jose (Calif.) CRC and former missionary to Cambodia, says it’s a “rare case of an older pastor intentionally mentoring a younger pastor and sharing power before retirement so that the leadership transfer becomes smoother.”

The fellowship began as a Bible study for newcomers and refugees who were sponsored by Christian Reformed Church congregations in West Michigan. Over time as attendance increased, a congregation was formed. Na became the Fellowship’s pastor in 1991. In 2006 it was recognized as an organized congregation of Classis Holland. The congregation has a mix of cultural backgrounds that include Anglo Cambodian, Chinese Cambodian, and Cambodian Hmong.

Duch attended the fellowship as a child with his father and siblings. He first became involved in ministry as a young person when he volunteered to translate Na’s English sermons into the Khmer language. Na recognized an ability in this young man to communicate well and encouraged him to lead the youth and later attend Kuyper College and Calvin Theological Seminary. As Na prepared to retire, Duch had already been mentored to carry on in Na’s footsteps.

The leadership transition took four years, with Na preaching three times a month and Duch preaching on the other Sunday each month. During this time the older and younger generations worked together, Na explained. The older generation needed to understand that for the church to survive and move forward it needed the leadership of the younger generation. The younger generation needed to understand how it can be scary for the older generation to step aside for a younger generation, especially because of fear of losing their culture within the North American setting.

Na believes, “There is a respect in the change of leadership and the new ways of leadership.” He believes the wisdom of taking the time to transition from an older to a younger team helped to form this respect and that this experience might serve as an encouragement to other churches of a minority culture.

Elders in leadership ought to search out opportunities to encourage the younger generation, Na suggested. “When it comes to Asian churches, there is often a clash of cultural differences, from the native culture (Cambodian) to the culture that the younger generation is living in (western cultures),” said Na. “There has to be an understanding as well as a communication to work together on those two aspects. For the older generation to be open to change, and for the younger generation to still be reminded of and not forget or discard where their family came from.”

Duch said, “Socheth encouraged and was supportive of the young people of our church to use their gifts where they were comfortable, and he opened opportunities for them to serve and grow. It was through his encouragement that I was given the opportunity to discover my gifts for ministry and to serve the church as their pastor.”

Na said, “By the grace of God we have not forgotten our Cambodian culture, and the transition has been pretty smooth. But most importantly we come together as a church to worship, glorify, and learn more about God and his Word.”

We Are Counting on You

The Banner is more than a magazine; it’s a ministry that impacts lives and connects us all. Your gift helps provide this important denominational gathering space for every person and family in the CRC.

Give Now