Planning Worship for a Seven Deadly Sins Series

So many churches have recently done a series of worship services on the seven deadly sins that you can find ample ideas for your setting. You can plan the whole service to help worshipers frame their experience of vice within the overarching story of God’s forgiveness and reconciling grace.

So many churches have recently done a series of worship services on the seven deadly sins that you can find ample ideas for your setting. You can plan the whole service to help worshipers frame their experience of vice within the overarching story of God’s forgiveness and reconciling grace.

All Saints Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas prints a new liturgy each Sunday. For a seven deadly sins series, each liturgy began with a preparation for worship section of biblical and book quotes for worshipers to meditate on before the call to worship.

The music, prayers, confession, offering, and sermon present more opportunities for enlarging worshipers’ imagination about how new life in Christ plays out day to day.

Choosing music

The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas conveyed the deadliness of sin by choosing opening songs such as “Too Much” by the Dave Matthews Band (gluttony) and “Slow Fade” by Casting Crowns (lust). Each service included a pre-sermon interview with someone who shared their struggle with the sin. After the sermon, the same person explained his or her path to overcoming the sin.

The song after the sermon can help worshipers picture abundant new life. After sermons on gluttony, churches have sung “Come and Share Our Bread,” “God of Justice Ever Flowing,” ”Goodness Is Stronger Than Evil,” “I Am the Bread of Life,” “Satisfy Me,” and “Table of Plenty.”

Sing about vices and virtues in partner with the psalms. The seven penitential psalms are 6, 31, 37, 51, 102, 130, and 143. You can search by Scripture reference for appropriate songs at Hymnary and The Text This Week. Use this index to find hymn versions of all 150 Psalms as published in major Protestant and Roman Catholic hymnals.

Sing about needing God’s grace to put on the mind of Christ. AnnaMae Meyer Bush wrote (“Psalm 31/My Times Are in Your Hands” and “Lord, I Pray,” which ends with the line “Should I fear, please be near; hear my prayer for Jesus’ sake.” Many congregations know the hymn “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior.”

Prayers of confession and trust

Worship planners often repeat a prayer of confession throughout the series. All Saints paired vices and beatitudes, e.g. “Blessed are the meek and the peacemakers. But in our wrath we seek revenge.” Church of the Servant Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, used a liturgical textby Susan Briehl: “We confess to you the truth of our broken lives…. We have hoarded and squandered the gifts of your creation…. We have neither worked to release the oppressed nor admitted our own captivities...”

Build on prayers by Thomas Merton and Catholic Community Forum to write prayers against the seven deadly sins. Write prayers or litanies of confession based on this self examination using seven deadly sins. Take an honest look at the difficulty of trusting God to provide.

During a youth service at Milford First United Methodist in Milford, Ohio, worshipers wrote their confessions on flash paper, sold by magic supply houses. The pastor dropped a match on the collected papers while pronouncing the pardon. Flash paper powerfully symbolizes God’s forgiveness because it flares but leaves no ash.

Inviting people to pray with cupped hands faced up helps them embody and practice trust that God will provide. You might combine this with an offering invitation such as Briehl’s “Let us come with joy and release what God has entrusted to us, offering gifts as a sign that we dedicate our whole lives to the healing and unity of all creation, through Jesus Christ.”

In Sinning Like a Christian, WillWillimon says that the offering “may be one of the most radical, countercultural, defiant acts the church demands of us.” That’s because this public action asks us to put our money where our hearts are and also reminds us that we’re not alone in fighting greed.

Sermon stories

Presenting the virtues and vices as a simple list of do’s and don’ts doesn’t do much. Being told you should be like Jesus doesn’t necessarily make you change. But truly hearing the story, the story about how God’s way of life and our way of life come together, piques interest in how Jesus lived what he talked about.

You can read John Wimmer’s “Telling the Story by Heart” sermon to get a picture of how to reach story-starved people with the gospel.

Dip into the sweep of church history to find stories of turning from vice to virtue. Augustine recommended imitating Jesus by practicing theattitudes and actions of mercy, peacemaking, forgiveness, and justice.Living the virtues is an intentional practice in contemporary Catholic Worker communities.

For more anecdotes and stories related to the seven deadly sins, download a sermon series or two:

  • Glen Shoup (began June 21, 2009), Shawnee Church of the Nazarene, Shawnee, Kansas
  • Jack Roeda (began September 20, 2009), Church of the Servant Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • James McDonald, Providence Covenant Presbyterian Church, Morton, Illinois
  • Jeff V. Cook and Tim Coons at Atlas Church of Christ, Greeley, Colorado
  • John Mullaney, Morningstar United Methodist Church, Chelsea, Alabama
  • Multiple pastors (began September 13, 2009), All Saints Presbyterian Church, Austin, Texas. You can download the service bulletins to see which Bible and book quotes are included under the Preparation for Worship heading. The church also produced a small group leaders guide for the series.
  • Multiple pastors, United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kansas (video)

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