He danced with the “King of Pop.” Now he preaches about the King of kings.
Pastor & writer
Church planting & multiplication
Antoine Miller was waiting to dance when he saw pop singer Michael Jackson’s hair catch fire.
It was January 1984. Energy pulsed at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, where thousands of people watched and waited for the “King of Pop” to dance.
In his early 20s, Miller had already danced across America for successful rappers and other musicians.
Miller, an Oakland native, has a long list of best moments in life. But near the top would be dancing for a rap group on a national tour. He danced with EPMD on the Run-DMC Tougher than Leather Tour. That included a performance at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before his hometown crowd.
That’s why Miller was selected to dance in a Pepsi television commercial with Jackson. Seconds into the commercial’s sixth take, Jackson’s hair was near a pyrotechnics system. Then, flames appeared across his head. It became one of the most iconic pop culture moments of the 1980s.
From dancing for a king to preaching about the King
Now, decades after helping get people excited about the Pepsi generation and letting the funk flow with EPMD, Miller is planting a Converge church in Stockton, California. He values praising and preaching – not dancing – on a screen.
Miller said people told him he should wait to start a church until society fully opens back up. But Miller was thinking of those who can’t leave their homes due to the pandemic.
“We streamed, and we moved forward anyway,” he said.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, people from Atlanta, Los Angeles and Uganda worship through a streaming service with the Stockton church.
Many people in Stockton might not worship otherwise due to the pandemic preventing some people from gathering in person. In addition, Miller said several churches in Stockton aren’t savvy with technology and haven’t streamed services online during the pandemic.
From the beginning, Miller and his executive pastor, Mical Cayton, committed to online worship.
“We set up as a digital ministry from the onset,” Cayton said. “It has afforded us a much broader audience and a much wider reach because we’re not constrained by physical geography.”
The pastor’s heart in Miller couldn’t slow down when people needed the Lord through the church.
“Their members were looking for something from somewhere,” he said of people hungry for spiritual growth and teaching. The streaming services of The Way Christian Church fill that need to hear gospel-centered teaching.
Pastor starts church a week before catching COVID
The church launched on December 6, 2020. The devotion to digital technology was suddenly urgent: Miller tested positive for COVID-19 a week later.
He had to start quarantining in his home. Miller faced the challenge of holding Christmas services and starting a church without leaving his house.
But his COVID-19 experience strengthened his ministry. A young woman in her 30s is one of the dozens who worship online at The Way Christian Church. While hospitalized with COVID-19, she messaged Miller regularly since he understands her health challenge and faith in God.
He said her church is one of those without the technology to create worship online. But he supports her and welcomes her, like anyone else who is eager for Jesus.
God is providing the wisdom for simple church
Cayton said The Way Christian Church has almost zero overhead because all they need is the technology to stream their worship services. In addition, a sister church shares a building with The Way.
So the young church is growing financially strong as worshipers give tithes and offerings. Cayton said faithful and intentional giving from people means the ministry will be financially viable when the pandemic is over.
“Come what may, we know we’re going to be ready,” he said.
Cayton said the church has emphasized being nimble in how they do ministry. And they strive to compete for people’s limited attention spans in a busy, stressful time.
“What we’re doing is a little bit out of the box, and that gives us a certain cachet,” said Cayton. “With Pastor Miller being a really strong pastor and teacher, it’s going to be a very fun ride.”
The Way offers people a path into God’s word
Cayton explained that a strength of the church is a fearless and faithful educational ministry formed by Miller’s decades in ministry. Cayton said the church wants to teach people to have an excellent understanding of the Bible.
“[Pastor Miller] is fearless. He will stand flat-footed and declare the pure, unadulterated truth of Scripture,” Cayton said. “We do not want to be guilty of leading anyone astray.”
That’s a spirit in strong alignment with the heart of Converge to start and strengthen churches so more people know Jesus. Converge’s 10 districts around America have committed to starting 312 churches by 2026.
Starting a church is phenomenally difficult at any moment. Starting one during a pandemic with widespread fear, significant government restrictions and confusion or conflict hasn’t discouraged Miller.
God has worked through the new church in ways very important for the people of Stockton.
“For some, it was a comforting word in the midst of a chaotic time,” Miller said. “For others, it was encouraging words when there was a lot of discouragement around them.”
Prophets still shaping what and how The Way serves
The church’s vision and core mission are simple: impart the word, impact the world and illuminate the way. Miller said the church’s name and purpose are shaped by Isaiah 40:3, which speaks of someone preparing the way for the Messiah to encounter humanity.
“I have a mindset that we need to do more in preparing the way for people to meet Christ where they’re at in order for them to get where Christ wants them to be,” Miller said.
Converge emphasizes ways churches can open their front doors so that ministries from Christ’s people welcome people into the Lord’s presence.
Bible-centered ministry dedicated to changing culture
Miller sees how Stockton is changing. More and more people are moving out from the Bay Area to own a home and have money to retire. However, they have to deal with a two-hour commute each way if they keep their Bay Area jobs.
The good news is they get to enjoy a good mix of city and rural living in one of the state’s leading agricultural areas. There are rivers and waterways all around Stockton.
Many residents practice other religions, such as Islam or Buddhism. Miller moved to Stockton three years ago to escape high housing costs. That’s when he learned Islamic and Buddhist worship buildings weren’t around 20 years ago in Stockton.
“As the city is growing, the spiritual landscape is being shaped,” he said. “You do have people coming out to the valley from different religious experiences.”
However, Miller aims to use his gift and passion for expository teaching and preaching to serve people. His daughter likes to joke with Miller that the Lord took some of his rhythm away when he started preaching.
“I’m not one of those black pastors who can sing,” he said. In fact, she laughs that he can’t sing, clap and rock back and forth at the same time. The dancer who toured with Run-DMC and EPMD almost three-and-a-half ago isn’t the same man ― physically or spiritually.
It’s time to keep people in the church
Many of Stockton’s 300,000-plus residents are people who’ve seen hypocrisy in Christians’ lives, and they’re turning away from the church.
Miller has been there. As a young boy, a woman told him his mother ought to be ashamed for allowing him to come to church dressed in anything other than a suit.
That infuriated Miller. Growing up in a rough neighborhood in Oakland, he spoke harsh words to that woman. His mother and grandmother disciplined him severely, but he never shared with them what exactly had been said to him or who said it.
He also stayed away from church for years.
“It set me on a spiritual journey that I thought would be found outside of Christ,” he said.
Despite looking for fulfillment in areas other than a relationship with Christ, God brought all kinds of men into Miller’s life. These men had a meaningful impact on his life because he didn’t meet his father until much later in life. There was his great grandfather Albert Miller, his stepfather Frank Goins, pastor J. Alfred Smith Sr. and Army Major Columbus Bryant, who was Miller’s JROTC instructor.
These men taught Miller to how to fix a bike, work on a car and live for others. Another pastor, George Epps, accepted Miller for who he was, not requiring him to look tough or be tough, which the Oakland streets mostly required of young men.
“I was blessed to see them all as men of integrity that took care of their families,” Miller said. “Pastor Epps, Pops, as I called him, just let me know that I didn’t have to pretend to be anything I’m not.”
The Lord also instructed and blessed Miller through the story of the boy-king Josiah, as told in 2 Kings. Josiah, too, grew up without a father. But men lived principled lives around the boy, transforming him into one of Israel’s most honorable kings.
“I think I’m a result of the verse that all things work together for good,” he said.
Even when a man gives up dancing for preaching and hearts catch fire.
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.