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Joel Belz: Good and Faithful Servant

02/05/2024
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    Joel Belz sits at his desk at WORLD headquarters in Asheville, North Carolina. (Photo by Jeff Wales)
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    Joel Belz records a commentary segment for a podcast. (Photo by Jeff Whales)
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    Joel Belz (back right) and his family in 1958 (Photo courtesy of the Belz family)
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    Joel and Carol Esther Belz and their parents at their wedding in 1975 (Photo courtesy of the Belz family)
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    Joel Belz as a high school senior in 1958 (Photo courtesy of the Belz family)
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    Joel Belz poses for a photo in 2019.
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    Joel and Carol Esther Belz celebrate his 75th birthday.
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    Joel and Carol Esther Belz (seated) talk to God’s WORLD News Editorial Director Rebecca Cochrane at the WORLD News Group studio in August 2021.
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    WORLD News Group staff gathers with Joel and Carol Esther Belz (far right) during a staff retreat in Asheville, North Carolina, in October 2023.
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    Joel Belz tries out a trampoline with students at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. (courtesy of Covenant College via Facebook)
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  • Joel on trampoline at Covenant

“Just as it is for every sinner, mine is a story of what God has done for me—not what I have done for Him.” — Joel Belz in a 2021 WORLD Magazine column

Joel Belz, founder of WORLD News Group, kept a humble view of himself throughout his life despite the churches he helped lead, the schools he influenced, and the global organization he founded. Instead, Belz saw himself as merely a great sinner who had received great mercy. Belz died Sunday at his home in Asheville, North Carolina.

Joel Belz was the second of eight children of Max and Jean Belz. His parents prioritized Christian education for their children.

“We took notes on the sermons we heard. And we memorized Scripture,” Belz wrote of his childhood, “so that all these years later, 20 or more entire Psalms are still stashed away in my increasingly Parkinson’s-wobbly memory.”

As a child, Belz joined his father, a grain/lumber/coal dealer turned Presbyterian pastor, at annual meetings of various councils. After attending a Christian high school his father helped start, Belz graduated from Covenant College, then in St. Louis, Missouri, with a degree in English. The college is now located in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He earned a master’s degree in mass communications and journalism from the University of Iowa. In between, he researched and traveled internationally for the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation.

Belz believed Christian education was a key to the believer’s life. He briefly taught logic and English at Covenant College before helping found Lookout Mountain Christian School, now Chattanooga Christian School, just across the state line in Tennessee.

For decades, he served as a board member of Covenant College.

In 1975, Belz married Carol Esther Jackson, and the couple reared five daughters. In 1977, Belz moved his family to Asheville to work for theologically conservative The Presbyterian Journal. He later became interim editor.

His involvement at Asheville Christian Academy lasted beyond his youngest child’s graduation. Head of School Bill George describes Belz, who also served as an elder at his church, as a great counselor and older-brother type, one who kept his head on straight even as his accomplishments grew.

“He was the same whether he was in front of an audience of a thousand or just sitting across the table having a cup of coffee,” George says.

Birth of God’s WORLD News

In 1981, Belz combined his journalistic experience with his background in education to launch It’s God’s World, a newspaper for middle school students. The paper became popular, and he later added papers for other age groups. Those publications eventually evolved to become God’s WORLD News as it is today: God’s Big WORLD, WORLDkids, and WORLDteen.

Soon after the children’s publications gained a following, Belz received requests for an adult version covering news and current events. Belz oversaw WORLD Magazine’s launch in March 1986.

“For the next five years, the goal was survival,” Belz wrote in 1997. “Could we publish one more edition? Could we pay one more week’s postage bills?” He continued, “During a period when 80-90% of all periodicals flunk the test of durability, God let WORLD survive.”

A Family on Mission

Carol Esther Belz remembers the early demands of WORLD nearly consumed her husband. The family jumped in: Carol Esther and her daughters would pack a lunch and head to the office for a picnic. She cleaned while the girls helped prepare WORLD publications for shipping. Later, Carol Esther worked to strip film for layout—before magazines were designed entirely on computers.

In the early days, Belz also turned to his siblings for help. He recruited brother Nat as a designer. Nat later worked in various roles for the God’s WORLD News magazines.

Nat’s wife, Mindy, wrote and edited for WORLD for decades. Joel’s brother Andrew is currently a major gifts officer at WORLD. Several of Joel and Carol Esther’s daughters also worked for the organization as young adults.

Belz later gave up his role as editor to serve as CEO of God’s World Publications (now known as WORLD News Group), which oversaw both WORLD Magazine and God’s WORLD News.

Since 2005, Belz has remained a much-loved columnist for WORLD. In it, Belz often reminded readers to keep news in the proper perspective. “For those who have come to trust their future to the God of the Bible, there’s no such thing as ultimately bad news,” he wrote in 2001.

God’s Faithfulness to Generations of Readers—and Staff

Today, WORLD News Group has more than 100 employees and offers biblically objective journalism for all ages—three years to adult—in print, digital, audio, and video formats. This content reaches an estimated 500,000 readers and listeners each month. Many have never known Belz personally. But because of him, they know more about God and His world.

Here are a few personal reflections of Joel from God’s WORLD News staff:

  • Rebecca Cochrane, Editorial Director: “I’m humbled and honored to be able to continue working toward the same goals for God’s kingdom he started out with in 1981. Through him, God has multiplied the organization, its mission, Joel’s vision, and so many learners’ application of faith to life.”
  • Anna Smith, Assistant Editor:Involved is a good word for Joel. He deeply involved himself with so many things—church, WORLD, Covenant College, and so on. That included knowing the people of those communities and institutions. That ability is a gift.”
  • Kelsey Reed, News Coach, who says about the time Joel placed her by name and position: “I knew to my core that [Joel] must have been diligently pouring over the names of the WORLD employees to pray for them in their work. That picture of intentionality sticks with me. . . . What a legacy.”
  • Kim Stegall, writer: “Joel was a warm, transparent, approachable man who was genuinely interested in people.”