This week’s post is an interview with special guest, Molly Williams. Molly is the worship pastor at Morningstar Ministries in Fort Mill, South Carolina. In addition to being an accomplished worship leader and singer-songwriter, Molly is also a gifted pastor – training and developing others in their creative gifts.
You can find Molly’s music HERE
I.W. – When did you start writing songs?
M.W. – I didn’t really start writing until my 2nd year in ministry school…the ministry I was involved with really emphasized writing your own songs, but I was really comfortable just singing backup for other worship leaders so I hadn’t really pursued writing my own stuff because I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a worship leader. Anyway in school we had to do a creative project with another student in our class and I got paired up with John Mark Mcmillan (who’s now my brother in law) and we wrote a little song together and I did it for class and the response was encouraging so I thought maybe it was something I wanted to try.
I.W. – What made you want to write your own worship songs?
M.W. – Well, as I was saying I was singing backup for a lot of other leaders, but then I just got to that place where I felt like I had something to say. One of the worship leaders I was around a lot, Leonard Jones, always talked about how as a worship leader you should dig your own well, meaning we all have the unique perspective of our walk with the Lord and if you sing about something you actually have walked through, and deeply feel, there’s hopefully going to be a distinct passion about how that comes across. I just started feeling like I wanted to write about what God was doing in my life and see if that connected with other people in worship…and i looking back now I just started feeling like I had a different sound inside of me that I had to express.
I.W. – How amazing is it that the first time you wrote a song, you were paired with John Mark?
One of the things I really like here is that at the beginning you didn’t really see yourself as a songwriter – you had settled into just singing BGV’s – so in a way, songwriting was something that you “learned”, a skill you discovered and refined, right?
M.W. – Yeah totally…songwriting is something I sort of stumbled into as I grew in expressing myself in worship. I thought of myself primarily as a singer, in some ways I still do, but becoming a songwriter definitely gave me more of my own unique language and sort of helped define who I was as a worship leader.
I.W. – What does your writing process look like?
M.W. – Well so far my songs have come in many different ways. There’s been a few that I’ve just woken up with the melody & lyrics in my head and then I get my guitar or sit down at the piano and try to figure out chords…sometimes I hear something in a sermon or read something in a book and can hear some lyrics and melody and a song will come out of that. I think it’s important for songwriters to be listening and reading because there’s so many different ways we can be inspired….but the most common thing for me is I get sort of a theme in my head of what I want to write about… it’s always something I’m going through in my life personally…stuff like, trusting God, overcoming loneliness, knowing more of His love…real life things I’m dealing with….and then when I’m playing guitar or piano I sort of start just singing a melody & lyrics start coming out of something that God is doing in my heart. There’s almost always the editing process after that…Rarely do I spit out a song in one sitting, I wish I was like that but that’s just not how it works for me. I have to stew on something for awhile usually. I want to write about what Jesus is doing in my heart because I think that’s more real and honest, but then I want to try to do that in a way that other people can relate to and find hope in. If it’s just all tied up in me then it won’t necessarily be helpful in a worship setting, so I want to try to make things accessible lyrically and melodically so that everybody can be in the song together. That’s when it’s the most fun.
I.W. – What do you do when you get “stuck”?
M.W. – Well sometimes I get stuck so bad that I just scratch the idea and move on to something else….but more often than not I just keep stewing on something and when I’m just spending time with the Lord I keep coming back to it and get bits and pieces over time. I don’t like to put this heavy on myself like it’s got to be all written in one sitting….maybe some people work that way but I don’t. I’ll be driving down the road and get a line or 2 and sing it into my phone so I won’t forget it. Also I’ve brought songs I’m working on to super talented friends of mine like James Duke or Paulette Wooten and they’ve helped me by adding ideas…They can bring things to the table musically that I can’t because I just don’t have the guitar/piano skills they have. It’s good to bounce ideas off friends sometimes because I think we can get stuck in a rut creatively and our friends have their unique giftings that can inspire and add different aspects to a song. You have to be willing to trust and appreciate what someone else brings to the table to work like that and I really trust James and Paulette.
I.W. – Do James and Paulette help out with lyric and thematic ideas in addition to music and arrangements?
M.W. – No…I usually do the lyrics/theme by myself…With James I usually take him a song after I’ve got the lyrics/melody and some of the chords, and he helps me with the arrangement and usually adds some parts like a bridge or some cool guitar stuff. It’s really easy for me to work with him because he knows what I like musically and he doesn’t push stuff on me, he always does things that I love. If you’re going to co-write with people I think it’s always a good idea to work with people who can add something different, but still let you sound like you. Paulette and I write together a little differently because typically she comes up with something first, maybe a just a pretty chord progression, I start hearing melodies and lyrics over what she plays. One of the songs we wrote together called “Drink Your Cup” came about in a funny way…..Paulette came up with a gorgeous chord progression that had almost an “over the rhine” feel to it (Over the Rhine is a band from Ohio that I love) and she made a little demo of what she’d come up with and emailed it to me, and I just listened to it over and over and got the lyrics and melody by listening to it. I had just started a job where I was on the road with folks I didn’t know well and was feeling really lonely and isolated, and the music she had come up with really captured what I was feeling, and a pretty song and Jesus meeting us in our loneliness came out of that.
I.W. – I know you are heading up the creative department at Morningstar Ministries these days – and that part of your work there includes raising up new worship leaders and songwriters – how involved are you in getting the “newbies” to write? What is your role in developing creativity?
M.W. – That part of my job is super fun! I get so excited when I hear the great new songs the younger leaders are writing. Back in the spring we did a few months of a songwriting class where we just got together and sort of paired up a lyricist and musician and some great songs came out of that. I actually got that idea from what you’ve done with folks at the Vineyard and it really was successful not just because of the songs but just the camaraderie and encouragement that everybody started giving each other. Another thing I’ve been doing is encouraging different younger worship leaders to get together and try writing and some awesome songs have come out of that. I think it’s been good because another person can sometimes fill in musical or lyrical gaps and it can open you up to new ideas, and even more so when you’re younger and haven’t really developed your songwriting chops.
I.W. – How do you encourage people who have never written anything?
M.W. – I encourage people to just start….you’ve gotta start somewhere….One of the young worship leaders I work with here used to just sing backup for me and have awesome spontaneous songs and I just kept on encouraging him to just get together with a musician friend and just try to write…and he did and he’s writing amazing songs now. You can’t be to self-critical, everybody is growing and the more you write the better you’ll get, but if you don’t even attempt it you’ll never get anywhere. When I first started writing I’d sit down with a guitar in my room and sing spontaneously what I was feeling, and then I shaped a song from there, or I would write things in my journal and go back later and see if it was something “song worthy.” I guess not every worship leader is a songwriter, but I think more often than not if you’re called to lead worship the Lord has put songs inside of you and you have to develop the discipline of writing.
Leonard Jones who was the worship leader at MorningStar Church for a long time would always tell student leaders that there’s just something special and powerful about singing something that comes from your own heart. I think singing other people’s songs is cool sometimes, but even then it’s gotta be a song I really feel in my heart.
I.W. – who have been some of your influences? who taught, trained and encouraged you?
M.W. – Don Potter & Suzy Wills Yaraei have probably been the biggest influences in my life. I met both of them when I moved to Charlotte 13 years ago, Don was leading worship for Morningstar & Suzy was mainly singing backup back then & then she progressed into leading more & being a songwriter herself. I started singing with both of them & got to know them on & off the stage & they just really influenced how I think about worship & life. They’re both my friends & I am who I am because of them.
I.W. – What would you like to tell worship pastors about writing songs? about developing leaders?
M.W. – With songwriting, go for it! You have to start somewhere and songwriting is like anything else, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Get help and input from other writers/musicians and write what’s in your heart. As far as developing leaders, I think the people that helped me grow as a leader made me feel loved and got to know me in an authentic, friendship-driven way. They weren’t trying to be some sort of domineering person in my life, but because I trusted them they could call me out on stuff. I think if you’re going to speak into someone’s life, especially in a disciplining-type way, they have to know you love them. I try to give guidance in a loving way and let people grow at a natural pace. I try to be the most encouraging leader every so that the people under me know how much I believe in them. It gives them confidence and builds trust.
I.W. – What is a really, really good day?
M.W. – Gosh…let’s see…Shopping in London is always a good day! Seriously though, my best days involve spending time with the people I love. I’m really blessed with the best friends/family in the world…they make my life beautiful. Whether we’re worshipping together or traveling somewhere fun or just hanging out having a meal or coffee, having honest loving relationships is what life is all about to me. The best day to me is one where I get a lot of things accomplished, then I go have a dinner outside with my best friends and we laugh and talk forever. I feel like I have that day all the time.
I.W. – All-time favorite book?
M.W. – The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, non-fiction….Paradise War by Stephen Lawhead, fiction.
I.W. – What are you listening to these days?
M.W. – My musical taste is all over the place but I’ve been OBSESSED with Adele’s 21 since it came out…I get sort of hooked on stuff and wear it out….for the last week I’ve been listening to Skrillex in my car…everybody needs a little dubstep in their life from time to time. The new Black Keys and Florence + the Machine albums have been in rotation lots lately. I’ve listened to Bon Iver’s version of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” about 100 times lately. I’ve always loved that song and the way he does it with just the upright piano is about as gorgeously heartbreaking as you can get. As far as worship stuff, I’m loving Bryan and Katie Torwalt’s & Jonathan and Melissa Helser’s new projects. Great heartfelt songs.
I.W. – You play guitar, what kind? (because all worship leaders love gear)
M.W. – I play a Gibson Hummingbird Artist & I love it so much…I think it sounds like butter. I think some guitars are just more inspiring and I wrote lots more songs after I got that guitar because I loved playing it so much. Recently Don Potter gave me a Fishman aura system to use with it and I’m not extremely techie but it definitely makes it sound even better through a system.
I.W. – Hopes and dreams?
M.W. – hmm….one day I’d like to be married. I want to be a better leader and write more songs and help more people. I want to have a life that’s full of creativity, joy and love and know Jesus more every day