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Ministry or business?

Hopefully we’re a little of both

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When you pick up your latest issue of WORLD, do you think of it more as a business enterprise—or as a ministry? Do you think first of Truett Cathy or of Billy Graham?

The ideal answer—from my point of view as the magazine’s founder—is that you think of WORLD in both categories.

WORLD is part ministry because it helps you develop your Biblical understanding of all that is going on from a God-centered perspective. I still remember the encouragement I got in our earliest years from a subscriber in Idaho. “Thank you for WORLD,” she wrote. “The insight gained from your articles is invaluable in facing the nuts-and-bolts issues of my daily Christian walk.”

But WORLD is also part business because you expect to get your money’s worth with your annual membership, and because you expect us to conduct our affairs in an orderly manner.

And I hope you’ll keep that blend and tension in mind in the years ahead.

Indeed, those of us on WORLD’s staff, and the 12 men and women who serve (without any pay) on our board of directors, see our task as a rewarding blend of ministry and business.

That “blend” always carries with it a certain tension. And I hope you’ll keep that blend and tension in mind in the years ahead.

On one side we note a healthy and wholesome desire to see God’s kingdom expanded. On the other, we take clear note of the tools we employ to bring that expansion about. So one side is godly and spiritual; the other is secular and suspect.

So it’s right, isn’t it, to hope for and plan on healthy growth in the circulation of WORLD’s paper-and-ink edition? That is what I think the woman in Idaho sees as “ministry.” There’s almost no debate: We all want to see the fruit of our work extended.

But at what cost? What if we discover that we know how to increase our present circulation of 70,000 to a robust 100,000—but that it would cost $1 million to do so? What if we also learn that such an expenditure will put some severe limits on other aspects of our “ministry”? Is this now a “business” decision or has it gone back to the “ministry” folks?

If at this point my reasoning strikes you as a bit muddled, let me assure you that you’re catching on! I freely confess to spending too many years here at WORLD a bit uncertain whether I was engaged in ministry or business—and most probably not being optimally effective in either.

I vividly remember, some 25 years ago, boldly approaching a highly competent businessman who was already a generous donor to WORLD. I asked him for a gift of a million dollars, which would go entirely to build the circulation—and through that the ministry—of the magazine. I stressed to my friend how he could extend the “ministry” of WORLD.

“Joel,” he replied in kind but straightforward tone, “you know I have a million dollars. You know that I may well give it to WORLD someday. But not now. If I gave it to you now, a year from now neither one of us would know where it had gone.”

My friend was way ahead of me. He knew the limitations of my mind when it came to “business” theory, analysis, and practice. He was more savvy than I was at the art of blending “ministry” and “business.” He helped me learn a few of those things—from him and other wise friends—before turning over the leadership of WORLD and its parent organization to others. All along the way, CEO Kevin Martin has displayed great gifts while thoughtfully leading our World News Group team in the work of blending ministry and business in everything we do.

I encourage you to apply the same kind of thinking to all the charitable organizations you support. Do they display a thoughtful desire and ability to blend ministry and business?

And don’t worry if WORLD doesn’t seem at first to fall into just one category. I hope we continue to wear both hats—and to wear them well.

Maybe that’s a big part of what makes WORLD so valuable.

Joel Belz

Joel is WORLD’s founder. He contributes regular commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. Joel has served as editor, publisher, and CEO over three decades at WORLD and is the author of Consider These Things. Joel resides with his wife, Carol, near Asheville, N.C.


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