This is my insider’s view of Pastor Steve Cioccolanti, his life, family and ministry. Not many people have followed his ministry as long as I have. 17 years! As someone who has known this man for almost two decades, seen the ups and downs, ins and outs, private and public life (I almost brought him to death once, but maybe we keep that just between you and me!), I hope this behind-the-scene look not only serves to bless others, but also is my personal tribute to Steve Cioccolanti who has been an inspiration to my writing Manna in Movies.
It all began in my youth when my mother was “checking out” the new Christian school her son (me!) had just started attending. They just so happened to have invited Christian ministers to school that day and she ran into Steve Cioccolanti, who at the time was interested in connecting with Thais in the community because a church for Thais was non-existent in Melbourne. We started attending a care group he was hosting until the time he felt called of God to start a church. We became two of the first members.
As an 11 year old boy, I did not really notice the blood, sweat and tears being poured out to build a brand new church from the ground up. Yes, there was an affiliation with a US Bible school which didn’t ring any bells for the majority of Aussies, but besides that affiliation, we were unknowns launching out into uncharted territory. Looking back I wonder to myself how any of the people who came through the church doors not only knew us, but were also passionate about who we were and who Pastor Steve was. Many Christians came through who were willing to “put their hand to the plough” and contribute in their own way to grow a little of God’s Kingdom in this unknown ministry called “Discover Church” (Yes, it’s Discover Church, not Discovery Channel, but people still mix them up). Everyone has their season and their reasons, and one by one they came, until today we stand on their shoulders.
One pair of hands that never left the plough was Steve Cioccolanti. Even before he became a pastor, he was a missionary and street evangelist. I have vivid memories from our early days of going out in the streets with my pastor and mother, preaching the Gospel to shop owners and people we would meet on the street. We started out in Dandenong, and if anyone lives in Melbourne, you would know that Dandenong isn’t considered one of the safest of communities around. But we had the fire of God in our hearts and the Word of God in our mouths, and obeying God’s Word was basically the culture we built. Pastor Steve every week would give us a faith-filled, bold and stirring message (which hasn’t changed) and as equipped saints, we went out to preach the gospel on city streets, host care groups, pray for the sick, letter box drop Christian tracts to our neighbours, serve tea and coffee to students in universities, and invite anybody to Christ.
We were one of the few to take bold steps to publish resources that reached other religious groups (like Buddhists, which was great since my family was Buddhist… that’s another story!), expose social issues that affected our youth, and explain Christian truths behind natural disasters that we watch and read about on TV and in newspapers (nowadays it’s more like smart phones and tablets).
You might be asking at this moment, “How on earth did you get such passionate Christians?” LOL. It came because we saw our pastor do it first! We saw Pastor Steve run prayer groups when he was on campus, invite uni students to church (some of them are still attending our church, married with kids, serving as leaders!), pray for the sick at the drop of a hat, preach the Gospel to his neighbours when he was just taking a stroll, built friendships with Christians in politics, sweat over writing and re-writing books that have become so influential (one was a bestseller in a Buddhist nation!). Yes the list goes on and on… and I haven’t yet mentioned the biggest outreach so far – his YouTube channel.
After reading my attempt to summarise 17 years of church history in five paragraphs, you can tell how laughable and absurd it is for me to hear labels like “pastor to avoid” or “a minister to watch out for” get thrown around. They seem divorced from reality, disconnected to the man and the church I know so well. A lot of people found Pastor Steve on the Internet and started following him, but I have been mentored by him personally for 17 years.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-16, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them…” I wonder what fruits anonymous keyboard warriors are bearing? How many souls have they won to the Lord? How many sick have they visited and prayed for? How many churches have they planted and preached at? Pastor Steve is as human as anybody, but the positive fruits we can see! Have I mentioned? I am one of them! And my extended family is saved and serving the Lord mainly because of God using him.
Remember the old movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”? The moral of the this great classic is you can measure a man by how life would turn out without him being present. I wonder how our lives might have turned out if we had not met Pastor Steve Cioccolanti. In primary school I was one the students who was typically told off by his teachers, made to sit at the back of class, or had a special desk right next to my teacher’s desk. I vividly remember on one of my report cards, my teacher had to write something I was good at: “He is good at day dreaming…”
When I met Pastor Steve, I was a boy with timidity written all over my face. I can admit it! Since then I have grown alongside this man and in the church God entrusted him to shepherd. I must say my life has been changed! How? Like Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:16: “…let no one think me a fool. If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little.” My little boast in Jesus:
My cousin, who would have dropped out of school, graduated and attended university mainly because of Pastor Steve’s love and discipline. Parents who know him look to him as an exemplary father. What kind of father is he?
Cioccolanti is the type of father who seems to be multi-tasking at every moment, but still puts those tasks aside when one of his children calls his name. He’s the type of father that can be speaking to the whole world, but put the world on pause to listen to his daughter or son whisper something in his ear. He’s the type of father that sees the potential in his kids and provides open avenues for them to venture and explore those pursuits, giving the same life changing counsel that changed my life to his children at such a young age. He’s the type of father millions will watch on Youtube and yet watches cartoons with his kids.
“But he’s your pastor!” some will probably object (as if I’m being biased). I see him as a Christian who lives for Jesus, but if we want to go there…
I don’t know any other pastor who gets as many people saved, filled with the Spirit, and healed in his meetings like this man. I’ve had the opportunity to follow him on trips to Fiji, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand and every time there are long lines for prayer at the end of each service. PEOPLE ARE COMING TO JESUS!! You’d think Christians would be happy and sing ‘Hallelujah!’ But haters are gonna hate. I don’t think anyone should criticise Pastor Steve Cioccolanti (or any other minister for that matter) until you can at least match the rate of souls you help bring into God’s Kingdom and until you fulfil the Great Commission God has mandated to all of us! As Pastor Steve sometimes says, “No monument has ever been built to a critic.”
The Pastor Steve I see is not focused on criticising or tearing down others, but on building the Kingdom of God and pointing all of us to eternal rewards. I don’t mean he is a pushover either. When you’re in trouble, you want a person like him by your side to fight for you. He will fight for others, but he lets others fight against him without revenge. I have actually seen some who repented because of his love and steadfastness. I have also seen a couple of people get judged after they dishonour him and would not change their attitude. My Buddhist family would have called it karma, we might prefer the concept of sowing and reaping. Isn’t that what the Bible says about servants of God? “Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses? So the anger of the Lord was aroused against them, and He departed” (Numbers 12:8-9).
I could probably write about many other amazing miracles and blessings we’ve seen in our 17 years of history. It’s a continuing story, like many movie franchises. They’ll be a sequel for sure. I tell you that Jeremiah 29:11 rings so true in my heart as a follower of Christ in Discover Church. We are living out this promise from God in these last days, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I have full confidence in Pastor Steve’s ministry, having watched it over a longer term than most people, and I have confidence that under this ministry, my family and future children will serve the Lord together.
There is no great man or woman in this world who has done anything great in Christ’s name (… no movie hero whom has saved the world!) who has not come against wicked enemies. Jesus is our ultimate example. He said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26). Jesus reminded us, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:20). If these are really the last days, shouldn’t we focus on preparing our hearts for the Lord and pursuing the high calling of God over our lives?
I shall end with a tagline from my generation:
“Haters gonna hate.” Don’t be a hater! Be someone after God’s own heart of love.
PS. Here are some of my favourite sites from Pastor Steve & Discover Ministries you may not have heard of yet:
Featured Illustration by Ben Garrison