Learning from Joel
CEO NOTES | Joel Belz’s love for readers and reliance on God set an example for us to imitate
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“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
MUCH COULD BE WRITTEN, and much will be written, about what Jesus has done through the life of Joel Belz. This issue alone contains a lot about Joel, with a retrospective of his life beginning here. The editors (wisely) limit me to about 400 words. I’ll do my best to pass along a few things we learned from Joel about how we do our work. Our prayer is that we will long remember and practice the ideals he demonstrated here.
Joel loved our readers. He sought to encourage, edify, challenge, provoke, surprise, and inspire you. He often remarked on your wisdom. I never heard from Joel a hint of disdain toward readers, even when you disagreed with him. When some of us wished for more subscribers, Joel said, “These are the readers God gave us. Let’s do our best for them. God will take care of the numbers.”
Joel’s love for our readers bore everyday fruit. Because Joel wrote mostly commentary pieces (his Walmart interviews being famous exceptions), he received quite a few expressions of disagreement. He almost always responded this way: “You may be right, and I may be wrong.” And that wasn’t just a rhetorical device to disarm the complainant—Joel meant it. Perhaps you have gotten one of those responses?
Joel never put himself above WORLD or thought himself to be bigger than the organization. In fact, he reacted strongly against the idea that WORLD Magazine was “Joel Belz’s WORLD Magazine.” This posture allowed Joel easily to give up authority and responsibility when it was best for the institution. For example, when Joel left the role of CEO at the age of 64, he could have gone anywhere. He had a huge following (arguably, he was bigger than WORLD) and a lot of energy. He chose to focus his energy and time on what he loved—WORLD readers and staff—even though he no longer had executive authority.
God gave Joel extraordinary gifts, to be sure. But Joel’s extraordinary gifts did not build WORLD. Rather, it was Joel’s commitment to employ his gifts in absolute submission to and reliance on God that has taught us so much over our years with Joel in our lives. We pray that we will seek to use our own gifts in the same ways.