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.