Staffers quit Venue Church after confronting pastor with allegations of affair, misconduct

Tavner Smith
Pastor Tavner Smith leads Venue Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. |

At least eight employees of Venue Church, a fast-growing congregation based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, have reportedly quit their jobs over alleged misconduct by Pastor Tavner Smith, who is allegedly shown kissing a woman who is not his wife in a video that recently surfaced online.

Last Friday afternoon, staff and volunteers confronted Smith about the video recorded in North Georgia, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported

Two former employees and four volunteers or members previously connected to the church told the newspaper that the eight employees quit after confronting the pastor about a rumored affair with a church employee. 

Venue Church did not immediately respond when contacted by The Christian Post on Thursday morning. But a spokesperson for the church told the Times Free Press that no comment will be made until after the severance process for staff was finalized.

Court records show that the pastor and his wife, Danielle Smith, who have three kids, began divorce proceedings in May, according to The Times Free Press.

Before the report, several individuals who said they are former members or employees of the church publicly made significant allegations of pastoral abuse and misconduct against Smith and his leadership team, including what they suggest is a pattern of marital infidelity.

Former Venue Church employee Colt Chandler Helton wrote in a Facebook post Sunday that he has worked for over 12 churches throughout his career — from North Point to Hillsong — and was hired by Venue Church in its early days to “set up its systems and structures and model anything an adult would experience on a Sunday morning.”

“In hind sight I taught the ‘Iranians how to make nuclear weapons,’” Helton, who worked for the church for nearly a year beginning in 2014, contends. “I gave a man who had very very bad intentions the ability to make a mega church.”

He shared a lengthy list of reasons why he left Venue Church, including what he claims to be financial abuse and witnessing domestic abuse in an atmosphere where there are “zero elders or accountability.”

“The lead pastor had 100 percent absolutely control and his decision was Devine (sic),” Helton wrote.

“Money issue - we were always told there was no money. But the lead pastor always had a new car every few weeks. And the shopping trips would blow your mind. From exotic dogs to shoe and jersey collections,” Helton alleged.

He recalled once watching the church’s worship pastor “slam his wife against a wall in the green room prior to going on stage.” Helton insisted that the pastor would “talk to her like a dog” and scream “submit to me, women.’”

“I witnessed on many times if someone saw or said anything about the money, accountability or abuse they were ran off and everyone at the church was made to triangulate against the said person and attack them by calling their jobs friends etc. making false statements in person and or on social media,” Helton alleges. 

Helton also suggested that Smith may have been intimately involved with females in the church other than his wife.

“I witnessed on many times the lead pastor have ‘alone time’ with females on the worship team and congregation,” he wrote, while pointing out how the church’s theology devolved into something resembling the “prosperity gospel.”

“When I went to report the physical abuse, I was told I was not allowed to speak to the lead pastor unless I was spoken to. Because he was so close to God and his closeness couldn’t be put in jeopardy by speaking to commoners,” Helton claimed.

According to cached data from Smith’s website, the Smiths met in 2003 while attending North Greenville University in South Carolina. They got married the following year.

At the time, Smith worked as a student pastor at a church in Greenville, South Carolina. He continued working around the country until 2008 when he became the executive student pastor at the Ron and Hope Carpenter-led Redemption Church in Greenville. 

“We had no intention of being anything but members,” Pastor Tavner recalled.

Four years later, in 2012, the Smiths moved to Chattanooga and started Venue Church, one of the fastest-growing churches across the country.  

“I never wanted to be a pastor of a church,” Pastor Smith said on his website. “This was not my plan. Actually, right in the middle of what I thought was our perfect plan — God spoke. He called me to start a church here in Chattanooga… He said ‘Shift.’ Danielle and I were scared to change our plan, but God continued to solidify in us that this ‘Shift’ — to live here in Chattanooga and start a move of God through Venue Church — was what He has called us to do.”

Helton contends that there “could not be a more dangerous man and or organization than Pastor Tavner and Venue Church.”

“He currently has cheated on his wife with his assistant and lead worship leader,” he claims. “His staff have almost all quit and he refused to step down. This is in part due to no elder system or any leadership to force him out.  This isn’t how the church is or should run.”

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