I am pretty sure that on Thursday next week my church pension will be credited to my bank account. When I look back, I have to say that the church’s system functions, as far as this element is concerned, extremely well. The Adventist Church takes good care of the people who are, or have been, on the church’s payroll.
Of course, it would be nice if would be possible—now and in the coming years—to keep the pastors’ salaries and the pensions of the retirees at least at the current level. In the course of time there have been significant improvements. When I had my internship in the 1960’s in Amsterdam, I initially received a ‘salary’ of 299 guilders. After a few months this was raised to 360 guilders. It should, however, be noted that the church allowed me to buy a bicycle and also paid for the place where I could keep my church-paid vehicle overnight.
When I began my work as an assistant-pastor my salary was almost 600 guilders. Even in those days that was not much. The church salary has never become a source of riches, but presently it is quite decent. Compared with pastors of the PKN (the Protestant Church in the Netherlands) the Adventist pastors do not do too badly, even though the Adventist salary structure is a lot flatter than that of the PKN. There is a very significant difference between the amount a PKN-pastors earns at the beginning of his career and the amount he receives after 35 or 40 years of service. The differential in the Adventist Church is much smaller. The structure is also ‘flat’ in another way. Those who are ‘higher’ in the church’s hierarchy do not get a great deal more than the ‘ordinary’ pastor. As the general secretary of the Trans-European Division, and later as the president of the Netherlands Union, I received an extra 12 percent because of the special (and supposedly heavy) responsibilities.
At present the international church considers to increase the differences between the salaries of the church pastors and of those who serve the church in special capacities. The arguments for such a move do not sound very convincing to me. It seems to me, that the tradition to reward different kinds of work within the church in a rather similar way, underlines the idea (which I support) that these different kinds of work all require the same degree of commitment and all require specific training and skills.
Of course, I have long been aware of the impossibility to reward everybody in all church institutions according to a pay scale that was developed for pastors. Medical specialists, for instance, in Adventist hospitals (who more often than not are not church members) must in our Western world receive more than a pastor’s salary. However, in the USA a situation has arisen in Adventist hospitals that will give most of us ample cause to wonder. The independent journal Adventist Today has performed a remarkable feat of investigative journalism. In the recent Spring issue, that appeared about a months ago, we are told about the pay package of the 50 top administrators in USA Adventist hospitals. Each of them has an annual income of, on the average, no less than 1,3 million dollar!
I am not certain whether the well-known argument (which is also quite frequently used in the Dutch banking sector), that you have to pay a competitive wage, if you want to get top-people, is valid in this case. Anyhow, we are here far removed from the Adventist ideal that all employees in Adventist employ receive a wage that is based on the wage scale for pastors. Perhaps the time has come to detach these big, specialized institutions from the church organization. For we are here dealing with big and complicated institutions that employ mostly non-Adventist personal, that must remain economically viable, must cooperate closely with other medical institutions, and provide health care for the community around them.
Church members have no reason to worry that their contributions are partly used to pay for the exorbitant pay packages of hospital administrators. These are paid for from the income earned by the hospitals themselves.
It remains a pleasant thought that most leaders in the Adventist Church are still prepared to perform their often heavy tasks for a relatively modest compensation. The total income (salaries and taxable expenses) in 2011 of the General Conference president was 87,008 dollar (about 68.000 euro)!
Whatever be the case: I am grateful that I can be sure that in six days the treasurer of the Adventist Church in the Netherlands will transfer my monthly pension to my bank account. And, at the same time, I am much appreciative of the fact that, in final analysis, the faithful members of the church continue make this possible.