Obnoxious behavior by Pastor causes Popular Venue Church to implode

Tavner Smith - YouTube Screen capture
Pastor Tavner Smith – YouTube Screen capture

Venue Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was one of those up-and-coming megachurches that have become very popular. It rapidly grew and is now rapidly shrinking.

What Happened?

Revelations via staff members concerning the behavior of the pastor. Many full-time staff members have quit and explained in detail exactly why very publically.

Yes, it is the usual stuff, the pastor has been having an inappropriate relationship with a worship leader who is not his wife. This however is not just about that, it is far far more.

The details are out. It is very much now in the public domain.

Let’s dig into it all.

Chattanooga Free Press (Dec 23): Staff members of Venue Church in Chattanooga quit over conduct of megachurch pastor

They report that not just one, but eight employees quit last week after confronting the pastor, Tavner Smith. These are individuals who had been dedicating their lives to the church for many years and now felt so aggrieved that they needed to down tools and walk away.

Issues of concern included not just the infidelity of the pastor and some very dubious financing, but also the utterly bizarre behavior of the pastor.


Yes indeed, here are some examples from the press story

Helton told the Times Free Press. “The lead pastor, you could not talk to him anymore. If he walked in the room, you had to stand up. You couldn’t talk to him unless he talked to you in that room. And then you would be seated when he told you to be seated.”

Any criticism would be seen as going against the church and going against God, Helton said, even when he tried to report to leadership how verbal arguments between some church leaders would turn physical.

The story goes on to lay out the following details …

  • Beliefs shifted from the traditional to the money grabbing prosperity gospel scam
  • Discussing such changes was not up for debate. The pastor made such choices without reference to anybody
  • He ran a very tight operation. Anybody who dared to criticise anything was banned, excluded, and put on a watch list to not be permitted in.
  • Reasons for being excluded could be simple things like wanting to talk to the pastor.
  • Those that left and criticised Venue, would have staff members calling their place of work and making accusations against them.
  • Ex members were literally demonized and tagged as working for the devil.
  • There was a deeply intense focus on tithing. People would be called out by name if they did not give enough.
  • The church did have a very positive image, but that was simply an illusion. Smith tighly controlled the public narriative.

The Tipping point Video

The tipping point appears to have been the following clip of Pastor Tavner Smith and another woman …

It does not show very much, but it was enough for the staff members to confirm their suspicions and to go confront him before quitting.

The very public Accusations

Colt Helton who helped the church grow from over 150 to its current size, issued the following criticism on Facebook …


The text within the above FB posting is dated Dec 20, 2021, and reads as follows …

A Post about “Venue Church” I have worked for or with over 12 churches From North Point to Hillsong. I 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” I gave a man who had very very bad intentions the ability to make a mega church.

My issues and why I left.

1. There where zero elders or accountability The lead pastor had 100 percent absolutely control and his decision was Devine.

2. Money issue we where 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.

3. Physical abuse, I witnessed the worship pastor slam his wife against a wall in the green room prior to going on stage. And on many of times verbal talk to her like a dog and scream “submit to me women”

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

5. I witnessed on many times the lead pastor have “alone time” with females on the worship team and congregation.

6. Theology, would change on a weekly basis. And quickly turned into a prosperity gospel view point.

7. 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.

8. Drug use by the lead pastors father, his father was apart of the church staff for a while. He would do cocaine in the church bathroom prior to greeting people on Sunday mornings. He was later kicked out of the church for homosexuality and died from a overdose a year later in flordia.

9. 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 currently has cheated on his wife with his assistant and lead worship leader. 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.

Ouch! and perhaps also Yikes!

Clearly, Colt is pulling no punches there.

The only thing I don’t understand is why he stuck it out for so long.

Now What?

The three in-person Christmans meetings were collapsed down to just on-line meetings.

All queries are rebuffed and no official statement has been issued. Tavner’s FB page has been more or less wiped.

Why does any of this matter?

Consumers generally have the right to understand what they are buying. That should remain true for anything and everything, including churches.

Some might argue that the activities of consenting adults are not for the public domain. If however your ever-so-modern hipster preacher, promotes sex as exclusive to marriage but decides that this is a rule just for you and that it does not apply to him, then all bets on that are off.

If he then proceeds to use the church as a means to simply enrich himself and is not held accountable to anybody for anything, then it becomes a public duty to flag this up and broadcast it far and wide.

I’m not alone in that thought. The eight staff members who quit clearly felt the same. They deserve applause for taking the stance they did.

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