298. Age Limits and Church Board Service

Should congregations build into their bylaws some limitations related to the number of consecutive terms that church board members can serve or some limitation regarding the age (either minimum or maximum) of board members?

  1. Limitation of Number of Consecutive Terms.

It is the case that board members who serve multiple terms sometimes assume a sense of entitlement to the role. Being re-appointed becomes a kind of affirmation by the congregation or the desire to continue becomes a symbol of status within the congregation. Serving as a board member can become entangled with our sense of identity within the congregation.

Another factor encouraging term limits is the temptation for board members to abuse their positions because they come to view their role as board members as a right and not a privilege. Putting term limits in place breaks a potential monopoly on board positions by a few and discourages potential abuse of power or position.

As well, establishing term limits opens upon board roles for emerging leaders. It is quite easy for church boards to have the same 6 or 7 people serving over extended periods of time.

Now, I would agree that in certain congregational circumstances continuity of leadership is very important, e.g., during a building program. However, sometimes continuity of personnel becomes an excuse for not putting in place board policies because the board relies upon the memory of long-standing members to keep things working well.

Of course, imposing term limits can have some negative consequences. To step away for a term or two from serving as a board member means a change in relationship with the lead pastor, as well as the other board members. The camaraderie experienced within the board will be missed. Being at the centre of decision-making does something to our human egos. A sense of loss  can develop and lead to negative attitudes.

In my opinion from the perspective of personal spiritual health, it is wise for board members to have required sabbaticals from board service. During such times these individuals can be challenged to consider other ministries within the church which could benefit from the leadership experience and support.

So I think the best wisdom in this matter is to establish a limit for consecutive terms. I think three or four terms is a good limit to impose because it allows individuals time to learn board operations and then begin to make a contribution to board leadership. Stopping out for one term is a reasonable requirement.

  2. Age Limits for Board Members

Age limits are a different, but related issue. How old should a person be before they become eligible to serve as a board member? Is there maximum age for board members, beyond which normally they should step off the board? These are difficult questions because of individual gifting, maturity and development.

With respect to a maximum age we have to consider that people are living longer and functioning effectively at older ages. Further it is often people in their 60’s and 70’s who have more time and energy to give to board matters. Beyond the issue of personal competence, there is the question of creating room for emerging leaders.

In my opinion an age limit might  be set at 75. If an earlier age limit is established, then consider developing a mentoring role that retired board members might undertake with new board members. Use their extensive experience and spiritual wisdom to help younger leaders embrace their board role more effectively.

When it comes to an age for eligibility to serve, I think it is good to consider several factors. Age itself may not be a sure indicator of spiritual maturity necessary for this role. However, I think as a general rule of thumb minimally a person should be 30 and preferably married, although this should not be made an absolute criterion. Individuals need to have time to demonstrate spiritual and emotional intelligence, as well as leadership competence particularly in relational matters.

If your board has not had such policies and decides to implement them, then consider some “grandfathering” of current board members so that the policy changes will not be perceived by those affected as a means to “get rid of them.”

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