Tennessee Megachurch Pastor Tavner Smith Announces Short Sabbatical Amid Affair Accusations
Tennessee megachurch pastor Tavner Smith said he is taking a month’s sabbatical to “spend some time with God” and get counseling after several staff members quit his church amid allegations he was having an affair with an employee.
Smith, who leads Venue Church in Chattanooga, said in an Instagram post January 6 he would be back in February after taking time to “fill up” so he could come back “rested, refreshed and ready for the rest of the year.”
“I love you and I’ll see you in February,” he said.
Eight church employees quit the week before Christmas after confronting Smith about a video that surfaced allegedly showing the pastor kissing a woman who is not his wife, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.
Smith and his wife, Danielle Smith, began the divorce process in May, court records show. The couple has three daughters.
After the resignations, other former employees came forward to share their concerns about Smith and the church, most notably Colt Helton, who was a member of the production staff in Venue’s early days.
Helton said in a Dec. 19 Facebook post that he “gave a man who had very very bad intentions the ability to make a mega church,” and that Smith “many times” would have “alone time” with women on the worship team and in the congregation. Helton also said he witnessed physical abuse, namely when the church’s worship pastor—not Smith—slammed his wife against a wall and verbally abused her.
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He also alleged that Smith mentally abused people who “said anything about the money, accountability or abuse,” including harassing them at work.
Helton said Smith’s theology “would change on a weekly basis” and alleges there was diversion of church funds “for personal projects for those at the top.”
“There could not be a more dangerous man and or organization than Pastor Tavner and Venue Church,” he said, blaming a lack of accountability on “no elder system or any leadership to force him out.”
A spokesperson for Venue Church told the Times Free Press the church would not comment until the departing staff members, some of whom the Free Press said are covered by non-disclosure agreements, went through an exit process.
The last post on the church’s website said Dec. 26 services would be online only but the site offered no more information about Smith’s status. A sermon broadcast live on Facebook by Venue on Jan. 9 featured Bishop T.D. Jakes.
According to a biography on his website, Smith moved to Chattanooga in 2012 to start Venue “because of his radical obedience to God’s plan.”
He had previously been the executive student pastor at Redemption World Outreach Center (now Redemption) in Greenville, South Carolina, where he said he became the “understudy” of his mentor, Pastor Ron Carpenter Jr., and developed a youth ministry that served more than 3,000 students in South Carolina.