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WORLD Magazine Founder Joel Belz dies at 82

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WORLD News Group (WNG) announced Sunday (Feb. 4) that the organization’s founder, Joel Belz, died from Parkinson’s disease complications at his home in Asheville, N.C. He was 82.

“In the 33 years I’ve been part of this project that Joel started, I never met anyone who so consistently applied his theology to his work and life,” said Nick Eicher, longtime editorial leader at WNG. “The fact that he was wrestling every day with the news amplified his utter reliance on God. I never saw his trust in his good Father waver, even when he could no longer be in the office doing what he loved.”

Belz got his start in journalism in 1977 when he moved his family to Asheville to work for The Presbyterian Journal, eventually becoming interim editor.

In 1981, while still at the Journal, he started a newspaper for middle school students called It’s God’s World. The publication was a hit at Christian schools, and he soon got requests for an adult version, one that covered current events from a Christian worldview.

So in 1986, WORLD Magazine was born.

It was touch and go at first, and after 13 issues the Journal’s board canceled the publication. But, in a twist of fate, almost a year later, they decided to relaunch WORLD and shut down the Journal. In April of 1987, WORLD got a second chance.

Belz wrote that for the next five years “the goal was survival. Could we publish one more edition? Could we pay one more week’s postage bills? Could we meet salaries one more time? Yet, during a period when 80–90 percent of all periodicals flunk the test of durability, God let WORLD survive.”

It soon became a family affair.

His brother helped with design and layout. His sister-in-law, Mindy Belz, also wrote and edited for WORLD, which turned into decades-long work for the publication where she also helped mentor and train numerous journalists.

Starting in the ‘90s, WORLD also began doing more investigative work into Christian ministries and leaders, breaking numerous stories over the years, like Mark Driscoll’s book buying scandal and financial mismanagement at Harvest Bible Chapel. The publication also received praise for its coverage of a secretive Capitol Hill Bible Study known as the “C-street group.”

Belz stepped down as CEO of WNG in 2005, but remained a columnist. He lived to see WORLD grow from his initial 1986 vision to a publication consisting of more than 100 employees. The organization now produces a bi-weekly news magazine, various youth magazines, an online news site, a daily 10-minute news video for schools, and numerous podcasts. Altogether, WNG reaches an estimated 500,000 readers and listeners each month.

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“In the 1980’s Joel envisioned a Christian news organization that reported on world events through the lens of Psalm 24 – that the earth and all who dwell therein are the Lord’s,” said WNG Board Chair John Weiss in a statement. “A leader, a publisher, a visionary, a faithful servant of his Lord and a friend and mentor to all of us at WORLD. His ever-ready words of encouragement to all will be sorely missed. But we know the One in whom Joel placed his faith has now called him home to his glorious reward. For Joel the battle is over and the victory won.”

Belz is survived by Carol Esther, his wife of 49 years, five daughters—Jenny, Katrina, Alice, Elizabeth, and Esther—16 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

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Brittany Smith

Brittany Smith is a freelance writer living in Colorado Springs. She is the co-author of Unplanned Grace: A Compassionate Conversation on Life and Choice.