t 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.”
“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.”