Venue Church pastor apologizes, denies affair, describes internal problems in leaked audio

Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / Venue Church on Lee Highway in Chattanooga is pictured on Jan. 25, 2022.

Venue Church Lead Pastor Tavner Smith denied having an affair or being "sexually involved" with a married church employee but acknowledged the two had kissed and planned to pursue a relationship after both finished divorce proceedings.

The statements from the Chattanooga megachurch pastor came during a Dec. 17 meeting with more than 100 church volunteers just hours after nearly all staff quit citing a years-long alleged affair.

Audio of the meeting, obtained by the Times Free Press, provides the first opportunity to hear Smith's perspective as the church has declined interview requests and the pastor has been on sabbatical since Jan. 5.

Smith says on the audio that the church's board of directors quit over the alleged affair, and he acknowledged he paid for counseling, vehicles and vacations for people connected to the church without notifying church staff.