In Greek, the word Rhema means an ‘utterance’, or ‘thing said’. And, back in the 1960s, when God first spoke into the vision of having Christian radio in New Zealand, few could have imagined just how far and wide that utterance would ultimately be broadcast. It was in fact the initial stirring behind what is present day Rhema Media. Now, more than 40 years since the organisation was granted its first permanent broadcasting licence in 1978 – thus becoming the first Christian radio station broadcasting in the Commonwealth – Rhema has gone from one radio station broadcasting in Christchurch for 12 hours a day, to three nation-wide 24-hour-a-day radio networks and a 24-hour nation-wide television channel.
With more than 70 staff, it’s radio networks Rhema, Life FM and Star – broadcasting on more than 100 radio frequencies – and television channel Shine TV collectively reach hundreds of thousands of Kiwis each week. Daily devotionals Rhema Media publishes – Bob Gass’ The Word For Today, and a youth version called the Word For You Today – are the third and fifth most read quarterly magazines in New Zealand, reaching about 175,000 and 72,0001 people each week respectively.
In looking at the scale of those numbers with Authentic, Rhema Media CEO Andrew Fraser – who has been in the role for five years – is both humbled and grateful when he reflects on where God has already brought Rhema Media, and excited about where His leading will take them in the future.
“You can absolutely see God’s hand in supporting us all the way through,” Andrew, who first joined the organisation in 2002 as the General Manager of Operations, says. “When God births something, it survives despite the challenges.”
Jeremy Smith sits down with Andrew to talk about how he came to faith in Jesus and some of the things that have helped him grow in his faith, what it’s like stewarding a ministry like Rhema Media and what might be next on that journey, and even his love of space.
To begin with, I’d love to know some of the story of how you came to know Christ. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Sure. I was born and raised in a Christian family. I was always in church circles as I grew up and was involved in youth group and Youth for Christ (YFC). I was probably about 14 – which was the fourth form back then, and is now Year 10, – when I first made a personal commitment to Christ. I remember being at a Youth for Christ training camp and retreat and I got called on to give my testimony. When I was sharing, I was almost a little bit apologetic about my background – I suppose what I was doing was comparing myself to others, their testimonies and their stories. One of the organisers challenged me to not be apologetic or embarrassed about where Jesus was taking me on my personal walk with Him. It took a while, but I slowly began to fully recognise and appreciate the beauty of the inheritance I have through my parents and my grandparents. That’s not to say that I don’t have issues and struggles, but I do have those blessings flowing down through my family line.
On that note, can you tell me about your family? In a busy role like you have at Rhema Media, they must be an amazing support structure…
They sure are. They are an amazing support network to me. My wife Anna and I have been married for 34 years this year. We have four grown children. From a church point of view, I’m blessed that I go to church, sit with the congregation and am simply refreshed. At this point in my life, that’s important and I’m blessed to have that.
Okay, looking at your work sphere, you’ve been CEO for five years – and prior to that you worked on the operations side of Rhema for 14 years after joining the organisation in 2002. Can you remember your very first encounter with the ministry?
I was born and raised in Nelson and my hometown was the third region to receive a Rhema station, after Christchurch and Wellington. In the 1980s, I was just a young kid, but I really loved technology. So, I found out where the Rhema offices were, approached the manager, and said “…here I am, what do you want me to do?” He politely gave me a bunch of flyers and bumper stickers and said, “…here you go, can you drop these into some letterboxes?” That was my very first interaction.
How does your current role differ from your previous one on the operations side? Were you surprised by those differences and, from your perspective, what’s it like stewarding a ministry such as Rhema Media?
That’s actually a great question. I remember the interview process for the role of CEO and being asked if I was ready for what the step-up would mean. I initially didn’t quite know what they meant, but in hindsight, – now having swapped across – it is actually very different. Being in my current role is a great privilege and being surrounded by a great team does make it easier. Programming wise, we are on the go 24 hours a day, seven days a week – in that sense the work clock is always ticking, and I never really switch off from thinking about work. The busyness of it all also makes it very cool to be part of and there is a balance to be found. I lean on the Lord a lot.
I love the job and the sense that we all get out of bed every day to come to work for something as worthwhile as pointing people to Christ. What could be more worthwhile than that? As a staff team, we will probably never know the full extent of the impact we are having on people’s lives you know? It’s ‘tip of the iceberg’ stuff. We also work with a bunch of fun, wonderful people and we are so blessed to be able to be in a workplace where we can stop, pray, spend time in worship at staff meetings and even just be encouraged in our faith through the conversations we have as a team.
Given Rhema Media’s beginnings in radio, is it fair to say radio will always be at the core of your reaching people for Jesus? And in that light, how do you know when it’s the right time to add additional resources?
Yes, radio has always been at our core – but you know what? Fundamentally our core mission is not about radio itself – it’s about sharing the Gospel message of Jesus with New Zealand through media. With that in mind, as we look to the future, radio is a great medium with which to get that message out to a large audience – it helps foster community and relationship with our listeners and helps them feel like they’re part of something. Radio is absolutely a necessity to fulfil the core of our mission.
Ultimately, when we add platforms, it’s about trusting God, while at the same time knowing what we’re called to. For us at Rhema Media, that calling is to Christian media for New Zealand – that means making it increasingly possible for all New Zealanders to take the next step on their faith journey towards a meaningful, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We’re constantly looking at what is happening in the media landscape in terms of technology. We want the Gospel to go to the marketplace – to where the audience already is. For example, according to NZ on Air, New Zealanders are still watching an average of two hours of traditional TV a day, as well as a similar amount of video on digital platforms – that’s a massive ready-made audience! That is why Shine is on all available platforms, Freeview, Sky, on the web, social media, On-Demand and mobile apps. Actually, thinking of it, one of my very first tasks when I arrived at Rhema Media was to get Shine TV on air.
On the radio front, when the Government deregulated in 1991, that initially gave us the opportunity to expand the Rhema network with more frequencies. Both Star and Life FM first came on air in 1997, and their inception came out of our audience telling us they wanted more content choices. From a human perspective, it’s the three-fold approach of knowing our calling, then asking, ‘where is our audience?’ and ‘where are the opportunities?’ and then pursuing the ones we believe God would have us go after. When it comes to taking the right opportunities, a fourth element – and the most important one actually – is prayer.
Looking at the content choices you have to make for Rhema, Star, Life FM and Shine TV, is it hard to make the ‘tough calls’ at times? To say ‘yes to this’ and ‘no to that’ if you will?
For sure that’s a hard one – and that’s a process we don’t take lightly. We have 168 hours each week to fill on four broadcast networks. The balance is finding content that is interesting and draws people in, which ultimately also points them to Jesus and makes a difference in their lives. As an example, on Shine TV, we feel called to increase the amount of culturally relevant local content from New Zealand for New Zealand that we air. So, we have deliberately gone out and sought to foster stronger relationships with local churches to help us produce and present content that is suitable on two fronts – broadcast quality and teaching quality. If we’re looking at linear, or traditional television viewing, has that decision come at the expense of some of the overseas teaching material, which we still believe is great? Yes.
One of the advantages we have now, is that in cases where good programming is not making it to linear tv, we can put it up on our on-demand platforms so that people can still access it. Are those decisions to bump or drop content tough? Absolutely.
When we are assessing how important any piece of content is, be that programming, ads or anything that is under the Rhema Media stable, for me, one of the bottom lines is, “…would I be prepared to stand in court and defend this decision?” When we say court, we could either look at that as being defending it before man, or, ultimately, I think of also needing to be able to defend it before God.
I rely heavily on my senior leadership team who are extremely talented and passionate about Christian media and their key areas of responsibility, but where things reach my desk, I will help make those calls. From an operational standpoint, we have guidelines about formatting decisions and the balance must be right. Programming choices must point to Christ first and foremost, while at the same time fostering that relationship with the audience, as we’ve talked about. And, of course, the Gospel has to be central. Every decision we make
has to be made through a Biblical lens. And ultimately, in all the conversations we have and the decision-making processes we go through, we ask, “Is this content pointing our audience towards a more meaningful, personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”
You more than likely get viewer feedback – both positive and negative – based on those choices. What’s that like?
We certainly are aware we are never going to please everyone. And yes, every day we get feedback on both sides. We do read it and we take it on board and reply. Everybody’s opinion is valid from their perspective. Actually, I heard a senior Pastor once use an analogy which has really helped me in my approach to dealing with some of the feedback we receive. He talked about a pyramid and at the top of that pyramid are our core beliefs as a Christian – things that are always true and will never change. God is three in one, Christ died for us and so on. At the bottom of the pyramid is denominations – essentially preferences. There’s no right or wrong with these preferences, it’s just that that’s where denominations come from. In the middle is personal convictions. When people have things that are their convictions, that’s often when they write to tell us what they think. Of course, we never set out to offend anybody.
We want to lift Christ up. At the same time though, I do believe that at times we have a responsibility to challenge people’s interpretations which come from their paradigms and prompt them to ask, “why do I believe that?” I’d say in our walk with Jesus there are occasions when some of our paradigms need to be challenged.
Okay, so away from work then, when you get to have a day off, where are we likely to find you? Or do you find it hard to genuinely switch off and relax?
At times it can be hard to switch off, yes. Anna has a job which is just as big as mine and she’s in ministry as well. For us, a day off literally means that we just relax! It’s about spending time together, going for walks, kayaking or visiting the beach.
If you weren’t working at Rhema Media, what else do you think you might be doing?
You know what, one of my main hobbies is anything to do with space or spacecraft. I’m hesitant to go as far as saying I’m a space geek (my wife would probably say I am!) but I do have an app on my phone about every rocket launch and I’ve watched them all. I think, partly, that’s where my love of technology comes from – I was part of the astronomical society when I was younger. If you asked me where else I would probably work if I wasn’t here at Rhema Media, it would probably be at a place like Rocket Lab. Honestly, I could stare at the night sky forever. For me, seeing the night sky and how amazing it is – because it is just incredible – points me to Jesus in worship.
With all the roles you have in life as a Christian – a business leader, a husband, father, a friend – what are some things which have really helped you with your own walk with Jesus?
I suppose it’s about lived experience in balancing all those factors you’ve mentioned. It’s having good influences around you, keeping your eyes on God and continuing to believe there’ll be a breakthrough. Actually, when Anna and I first moved to Auckland at the time I began my first role with Rhema Media, our four kids were all under 10. I’m an organised person and I like to know how things will work out. There were some things about the move which just didn’t make sense – be they financial aspects or whatever – and we just didn’t know all the answers. In faith, there a point when I just had to let go of trying to manage my life myself, hand it to God and walk with Himday by day. When we give the things we don’t understand, or that we can’t control to Him, that’s where growth in our faith happens.
As we know God created creativity. I love the fact that on that note, Rhema Media is looking to be creative in the ways in which you seek to reach people. How though, do you look to get that balance right?
Absolutely. As I’ve said, I do have a bit of a passion for technology and I get really excited about it. I suppose it falls into that opportunity category that we’ve talked about – but you do of course have to have that balance. This is actually an area in which we have a lot of discussions and we’re part of all sorts of industry forums as one way of helping us keep in touch with the latest technology. The other thing I want to say though is of course that on top of all of that, as an organisation we have to make sure that we are caring for and stewarding the resources we’ve already been given – we can’t go chasing fads technology wise and we have to decide what’s worth investing time and resources into. Having said that, on the technology front, we have certainly been pioneers at Rhema on several occasions. In the mid-1990s we were the first radio network in New Zealand to use satellite for distributing our network – and others then followed. In about 2004, we were one of the first, if not the first, organisations to stream our radio and television platforms on the internet. I suppose we have an advantage in the fact that we are not looking for a commercial return. We’re simply looking to get the Gospel message of Jesus Christ out as far as we can get it.
Given some of the experiences you have had, and the things God has taught you, how would you encourage other Christian men?
I’d say this – and it applies not just in Christian ministry, but in a life following Jesus in general as well. I do think you have to learn to be comfortable with the ‘grey’. And by that, I mean in the times of not necessarily knowing the ‘how’ of certain things and the ways in which they will turn out. We still have to trust God. I think His timing is often one of the things we struggle with – in the sense that when we make plans we also have our own timelines in mind. But sometimes, with God, it can take longer than we think it will. That doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t happen, it’s just in His timing not in ours and we trust Him in the middle of that.
With Rhema Media in mind then, can you give me an example of a time when God provided and came through when a situation looked ‘grey’ or impossible?
When you ask that question, I cast my mind back to 2010 – that year we had to raise an extra $6 million to relicense all our frequencies for another 20 years. That meant doubling our donation income that year. We approached the task on multiple fronts, working all theangles we knew we had if you like. We were obviously out there talking to people, and as we did so, we were fielding all these questions like, “…how are you going to raise the money?” and “…what if you don’t?”. My answer then was “…we will have the right amount of money at the right time.”
We knew we needed the frequencies and God was calling us to have them, but we were acting in faith. I couldn’t tell you back then exactly how or when we were going to reach the $6 million mark. I can obviously tell you now, 10 years later, with the benefit of hindsight, that it worked out better than we thought. At the time, we just believed God. We were confident in what we knew He was calling us to do and He provided.
This past New Zealand Music Month I watched a few of the live streams which featured Equippers Revolution, Blsd One, Te Rautini and others on Life FM on Friday evenings. How awesome having New Zealand content like that!
I’m pleased that several years ago now, we started focussing a lot of our programming decisions on providing Kiwi content for New Zealand, from New Zealand. In the digital age, with technology like streaming, we’re seeing a lot of people – from those who are expats through to anyone who has any affinity for New Zealand – consuming the content. Our content needs to speak to the cultural context in which we find ourselves in our place of standing here in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
What scope do you see there being for Rhema Media to get alongside and work with other ministries in New Zealand? And for maybe doing more?
That’s a great question, and it is a constant challenge. Ultimately, we’re part of the body of Christ. We don’t stand on our own and we take that responsibility very seriously. We do have a relatively unique situation here in New Zealand, in that we have the lion’s share in terms of the reach of Christian media in New Zealand. But, we do believe we steward it on behalf of the Church. We have a responsibility to partner with other organisations and groups to help them get their voice out to the nation.
We’ve broken part of our mission statement down into a specific phrase which is “…content plus reach equals impact”. We’re looking to both make a positive impact on people’s lives and a more specific impact in terms of pointing them towards Jesus Christ. We’ve got the reach, as I’ve said. And on the content side of things, we are both content creators and curators of good quality Kiwi Christian content. We do gift airtime to organisations, but the truth is we have more organisations requesting spots than we can accommodate, in terms of being a fit with our audience. And those decisions about who we partner with and who we promote obviously weigh on our minds. In cases where we are unable to accommodate ministries at times, that’s not to say we don’t value and support the work they do. There’s a lot that goes into that process – and we need to be really prayerful about how we approach individual situations.
Thanks so much for sitting down with us Andrew. To find out more about the work of Rhema Media, visit www.rhemamedia.co.nz
1 Nielsen CMI Q120-Q420
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By Jeremy Smith
About the author
Jeremy Smith is editor of, and one of the writers for, Authentic Magazine.
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