Research and Validity of LPLI

The Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary developed LPLI, the Lewis Pastoral Leadership Inventory™, in response to a growing interest in leadership effectiveness among clergy, laity, and denominational leaders. The motivating interest was a desire to help church leaders grow in effectiveness. Although numerous secular leadership inventories were available, something tailored to the specific demands of church leadership was needed.

Following a three-year period of development and field testing, the Lewis Center made LPLI Pastor Version available for general use in 2009. In the decade since its public launch, it has helped more than 3,000 leaders from over a dozen denominations gain helpful feedback and develop as leaders.

How LPLI was Developed

The initial phase of developing LPLI involved defining indicators of effectiveness in ministry. The Lewis Center began gathering information from denominations and judicatories on how they defined clergy effectiveness with the objective of identifying those elements held in common. The Lewis Center also drew upon studies of clergy performance and the literature of pastoral effectiveness. Through a content analysis of all this information, a threefold framework began to emerge around the core categories of charactercompetence, and contribution. Specifically, these are meant as the following:

  • Character — Who a leader is
  • Competency — What a leader knows and does
  • Contribution — What a leader accomplishes

Before adopting the protocols commonly used to develop a 360° assessment instrument, the Lewis Center wanted to integrate what others had learned in developing and using such instruments. The first steps were to study the relevant research literature on the subject and to review a select group of widely used and evaluated instruments. The Lewis Center also consulted with an organizational psychologist and secular experts in the field of human development.

Field Testing

The threefold framework of character, competence, and contribution became the basis of the first pilot version of LPLI which was field tested in 2006 with more than 500 clergy. Participating clergy, their denominational leaders, and observers were all invited to give their feedback on the process. Based on feedback and results from the first pilot, the Lewis Center refined and expanded the indicators of effectiveness. Adjustments were made to questions, procedures, software, and the reporting format. Out of this work came a second pilot version that was field tested in 2008 and 2009 with approximately 1,000 clergy from across the United States.

Statistical Validity

Various tests of statistical reliability were applied to the field test results and they have been verified through comparisons with external evaluations of effectiveness. Statistical analysis indicates strong internal reliability (coefficient alpha was over .80) for the measures. Where this was not initially present, additional clarifications have been made to LPLI questions and reports to enhance reliability.

Great care was given in the analysis of results to make sure that no inadvertent bias would be built into the inventory, especially regarding race and gender. The most recent reliability analysis was conducted by external researchers in the spring of 2017 and the results continue to indicate strong internal reliability and correspond closely to the original analysis done in 2009.

Addressing the “Halo Effect”

A challenge for some leadership assessment instruments, particularly in the nonprofit sector, is the tendency for scores to skew toward the high end of the scale. This tendency can be exacerbated when assessing clergy, since a “halo effect” can color people’s perceptions of their pastor. Because responses to LPLI tend to cluster at the top end of the range, differences that might seem slight — say between a score of 6.1 and 6.4 on a seven-point scale — can actually be significant. The Personalized Leadership Profile addresses this tendency with its 360° approach and by identifying an individual’s greatest strengths and weaknesses as well as the greatest differences between the self and observer scores.

Scores are placed into a 360° evaluative context in two ways. First, an individual’s score is presented with the average observer score for each indicator and area. Second, these scores are compared with the averages obtained through Lewis Center research analysis of past LPLI participants.  This broad context reveals meaningful variations, even when scores are clustered at the high end of the scale. An example below shows how scores at every level are charted in the Personalized Leadership Profile.

Research and validity chart
When viewing their Leadership Profile Report, users can also reference Standard Deviation Graphs that indicate the range in which most scores (68%) tend to fall.

Benefits of LPLI Research

Our study of LPLI data has yielded insights into clergy effectiveness and we will continue to collect anonymous demographic data for analysis.

The Lewis Center has found that clergy score highest in “character” (spiritual authenticity, integrity, wholeness, and self-awareness) and next best in “competence” (various skills and aptitudes related to pastoral ministry). This matches other findings that indicate that while there is much talk of ineffective clergy today, most laity have confidence in their clergy as people and professionals. That being said, clergy and laity understand that many churches are struggling despite having trusted and capable pastoral leadership. This is reflected in the area of “contribution” or fruitfulness, where clergy typically score lower than in character and competence.

The things clergy do well and those things they find challenging today do not vary much across judicatories or denominations. We have found no difference in scores of male and female clergy. So far, we find that the longer a pastor has been serving the higher they tend to rate themselves, though that is not always the case for their observers.

LPLI data has been part of research elsewhere. The literature emerging from researchers using the LPLI in conjunction with their research is limited, partly because the LPLI is still relatively new. Some projects include:

Jasmin O. Brown, The Importance of Integrity in Christian Leadership, D.Min. thesis, Asbury Theological Seminary, 2014.

William Ralph Cannon II, Prior Pastoral Leadership Experience and Post-Seminary Effectiveness: A Mixed Method Study, Ph.D. dissertation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2015.

Renee Ford, Factors Influencing Clergy Leadership Effectiveness, Ph.D. dissertation, Penn State University, 2015.

Leslie P. Towsey, Emotional Intelligence Testing with Clergy, D.Min. thesis, Wesley Theological Seminary, 2008.