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The governance department’s role in The Salvation Army ‘machine’

Major Phil Inglis explains his role with The Salvation Army governance department using a diagram of the governor in James Watt’s steam engine concept.

In the 1790s, James Watt invented (or adapted) a device for regulating the energy output of a steam engine.

It would increase power when required and reduce power when it wasn’t needed. This ensured steady power was available even when situations changed (the train went uphill, for instance). It also ensured that no matter what happened, the engine wouldn’t blow up because there was too much pressure.

The device was called a governor.

This governor, and the governance it provided for steam engines, was the key that unlocked the industrial revolution. This industrial revolution fundamentally changed humanity as it spread across industries, countries and the world, ultimately creating the conditions within which The Salvation Army was born.

In May, I was appointed to the governance portfolio of The Salvation Army Australia. Since then, I have been asked a number of times what exactly the governance department is for. My answer is to refer to James Watt’s governor.

The Salvation Army is a giant machine. Far more complex and complicated than a steam engine, but like a steam engine, there are times when different departments need more energy and other times when some need less. There are times when the Salvation Army is under pressure, and energy needs to be conserved and released correctly, and there are times when heat needs to be taken out of certain systems to ensure things don’t explode.

Over the past few years, I have watched a number of great international church leaders and ministries crumble because of various failures in judgement. In many cases, too much power and energy was invested in a single person, and that kind of pressure is unsustainable. This is also true when we examine failures in politics.

There are many moving parts and a lot of things happening that not many people outside the department fully understand.

All of these have been described as a failure of governance. That is, there was not enough of a mechanism within these churches and political parties that held a check on the amount of energy flowing through them. This is what it means to have sufficient governance. Ironically in the latest Robodebt tragedy, it was identified that the government did not have enough governance.

Finally, I want to point out that the main image above shows that a governor in a steam engine is perhaps the most intricate and complicated piece of equipment. There is a reason why James Watt is considered a genius. The same thing is true in a governance department – whether within a church or another organisation.

There are many moving parts and a lot of things happening that not many people outside the department fully understand.

If you have any questions about the department and how it does what it does, I would be more than happy to answer questions or to find someone who can answer them.


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