TN Megachurch Pastor Accused of Affair Says He’ll Be Back After Short Sabbatical

By Julie Roys
Tavner Smith Venue
Tavner Smith, lead pastor of Venue Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has been accused of having an adulterous affair yet has said he'll return to the pulpit after only a short sabbatical. (Photo via Instagram)

Despite evidence of an adulterous affair, Tennessee pastor Tavner Smith says he’ll be back at his Chattanooga megachurch next month, following a short sabbatical.

Just before Christmas, a video of Smith kissing a woman other than his wife surfaced online. This prompted eight staff at Smith’s Venue Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to resign. Staff members also told local media that Venue Church is rife with abuse and questionable financial practices.

Yesterday, Smith posted on Instagram that he’s taking a sabbatical “to fill up, spend time with God, and get some counseling so I can come back rested, refreshed and ready for the rest of the year.” He ended the post with “see you in February.”

Smith’s announcement was liked by more than 330 people on Instagram.

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“So proud of you,” commented someone named Renee Osborne. “We stand with you. . . . Build your church from the ground up.”

“Great preaching and you deserve it . . .” said Kristie Daniels.  Someone else posted: “We love you Pastor Tavner. May you find the clarity that you are seeking.”

Smith started Venue Church in 2015 and it quickly became one of the fastest growing churches in America.

According to former staff member, Colt Chandler Helton, as the church grew, so did Smith’s spending and lavish lifestyle. Helton said Smith had “a new car every few weeks” and shopping trips that “would blow your mind.”

Helton added that Venue has “zero elders or accountability,” and that he witnessed physical and mental abuse by church leaders.

Former Venue security team member, Destiny Santos, said the church put people on a “watch list” who criticized the church. She added that Venue labeled any criticism as “the devil’s move” against the church.

In its earlier days, Venue was associated with the Association of Related Churches or ARC, which has been plagued by sexual scandals involving ARC pastors.

Smith, who is married and has three children, is in the process of divorcing his wife, according to the Times Free Press.

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20 thoughts on “TN Megachurch Pastor Accused of Affair Says He’ll Be Back After Short Sabbatical”

  1. Ronald K Denlinger

    In Hosea 6, Israel suggests that full repentance and complete restoration should be able to take place within a period of three days (forget that the rest of the chapter shows that God wasn’t impressed – he saw through their soon-to-disappear love for God).

    In comparison to three days, six to eight weeks to “fill up,” etc. seems like plenty, right?

    1. If you have ever been in marital counseling with a spouse who was having an affair you would know that it takes more tham three days to break free.

      You are lucky if they can go three days without speaking to their affair partner.

      No way restoration happened in three days.

  2. Carolyn McLaren

    I live in Chattanooga. My husband and I were looking for a new church early 2020. We visited Venue and without a doubt, decided it would NOT be for us. We left shaking our heads in unbelief as to what we had just experienced. Sadly, it was no surprise when we recently saw Tavner in the headlines. As the New Year approached we noticed he was headed back to the pulpit for “Vision 2022.” Jeremiah 5 is one way I can explain how he ends up back in the pulpit and why people still support him…

    “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land; the prophets prophecy falsely, and their priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?” Jeremiah 5:30-31

    Tragic.

      1. Dean Tee,

        I second that, I would be interested in hearing just what was so awful about Venue and Pastor McTavern (before the adultery and divorce was revealed) from Carolyn McLaren. (I assume that it’s the standard “gospel of health and wealth” seeker-sensitive excrement.)

        1. Carolyn McLaren

          Dean and Brian…

          I’ll start with the worst. There was no true biblical teaching. Tavner paced the stage and mostly talked about himself with a few principles (health and wealth for sure) woven in. One of the main things that my mind remembers is him going on about how his grandmother prophesied about how his name would be known globally. On the way out, the large screens had photos of his Instagram photo and user name with the words, “Follow Me.” This spoke loud and clear to me about exactly who those people are following. Definitely Tavner and not Jesus.

          Now for the less important…when we pulled into the parking lots there were people holding signs throughout that say “honk if this is your first time.” It was obnoxious. Once you park, there are way too many people greeting you with high fives. By the time we were seated, we were exhausted by all that commotion just to get into the place. And once seated, the background music was so ridiculously loud that my husband and I could not even hear each other talk and we were right next to each other.

          The whole experience was ridiculous.

          1. “One of the main things that my mind remembers is him going on about how his grandmother prophesied about how his name would be known globally.” That is pure narcissism. Those who stayed after that love their narcissists. Americans sure tend to. Our celebrities, in and out of the church, sure love to talk about themselves, name drop, and the list just goes on. I sense a need for a new iconoclast movement. Our current icons are our narcissist celebrities. We need to cast these down and destroy the idolatry in ourselves.

          2. Carolyn McLaren,

            Thanks for providing the exact information about what’s going on. Yikes. That’s a classic cult, complete with all the “love-bombing”. Tavner is treading close to Jim Jones country.

  3. Given the spiritual significance of the allegations and his reaction, whatever he says about knowing Jesus, a pertinent question might be whether Jesus knows him.

  4. I assume at this point his entire congregation is aware of what happened. I sense the cult of personality may be what is driving the support he is receiving but at this point those attending this church are doing so with their eyes wide open. For those members of this church who object to his bad behavior and the lack of accountability this may be the wake up call they need to find a new church.

  5. I wonder if one of the staff who resigned was the IT guy. Venue Church’s website cert expired on the Jan 1.

  6. It appears from all social media cues that he and his wife have been separated for quite awhile, maybe 18 months? This doesn’t free him up to kiss other women; just an observation. Has he given any statement to his church about this?

    1. If he is separated, he is still married. If he is divorced, that can change the conversation – though the reason/s for divorce are important – see 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1 in regards to qualification for an Elder/Pastor/Overseer.

      1. Is there any church that cares about the reasons for divorce these days? I remember the fuss over Pastor Chuck Stanley when he and his wife divorced because of irreconcilable differences.

        He had previously preached that if he ever had an unbiblical divorce he would be disqualified from ministry and would step down.

        Oh course, when push came to shove, he was “encouraged” by his congratulation to go back on his word and he only just retired after another 20 years in the pulpit.

        Millions of Christians are divorced for all kinds of reasons, and nobody bats an eye these days. Time to accept that divorces of any kind no longer disqualify anyone from any ministry, especially for long-standing pastors who are popular with their flock.

  7. This “Association of Related Churches” is something I’ve not heard of before… has the Roys Report or any other outlet covered this ‘thing’ in detail? Does it have any doctrinal statement, leanings or is it just mish-mash megachurchianity? Any distinctiveness other than really cheezy, bland church names?

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