Shaping a Life, Shaping a University
Benjamin Finch '02
When John Benjamin Finch '02 strummed his first note in Weaver Auditorium as a freshman, he didn't know how unexpected opportunities like this one would shape the rest of his life.
Neither did he know how his life would later shape the University of Mobile, once Finch's education and life experiences had equipped him in a unique way to reinvest in his alma mater.
In 1998, the freshman marine science major had learned a few guitar chords and worship songs with a guitar he received for Christmas. While walking to class one day, the school's campus minister "handed me his guitar and literally pushed me out on stage to lead worship for chapel that day. I had never even played the guitar in public," said Finch.
But that day was only the beginning for Finch. He continued to lead worship on a regular basis at UMobile and in church ministry. His life's calling became increasingly clearer when he took a theology course, which prompted him to change his course of study to religion and communication.
"I had become a Christian during my senior year of high school and I was eager to know more about my own conversion," said Finch. "I realized that I couldn't see myself studying anything else. (My studies in religion) really helped nourish my soul."
Though the shift from marine science to religion and communication was also unexpected, it served as the launching pad for Finch to enter church ministry. There, he recognized his core purpose: "to connect with people."
Learning and Leadership
Finch's passion for people motivated him to become a worship leader and college pastor. That is, until another unexpected opportunity presented itself.
"I just began to feel a sense of discontent. I became eager to connect with people who will never be in the presence of a church. I want to be a godly influence in people's lives, and in the marketplace," said Finch.
So following his completion of a master's of divinity program, Finch shifted his focus to leadership.
"I think people are realizing that it's great to be well gifted, and to know your trade, but you have to work with people and know how to lead them in order to accomplish your goals," he said.
That realization jump-started Finch's consulting career. Following doctoral studies in leadership, he began traveling across the country to teach organizations how to become healthy.
Many of the struggling practices Finch encountered became thriving businesses in his wake. Eventually, Finch turned the organizational health curriculum he developed into a book titled, "A Remarkable Practice: Developing Leaders Personally and Professionally."
Drawing from his background in music, Finch's book compares the organization to a song. "All good music has a good melody. An organization's melody is its purpose and mission that influence everything that it does," he said. "If you get away from the melody, then your song becomes something other than it was intended to be."
In the book, Finch explains that a healthy company culture keeps the "song" in harmony because everyone is doing their part to keep the "rhythm" of the organization steady.
By leading others to lead as well, Finch's professional consulting role became another note in Finch's personal melody that is driven by his mission of connecting with people in the marketplace.
Finding His Rhythm
"I've always wanted to do things with excellence. It's about creating work that honors God, our Creator," Finch said.
So Finch began developing curriculum for use in church ministry. "I wanted to help people learn how to approach Scripture so it can build their faith in an engaging way," he said. The curriculums he formed out of that desire, called "Connected to Jesus," and "Connected to Ministry," were taught at numerous student conferences and events.
Though Finch's influence was rapidly expanding, he encountered his share of frustrations.
"I struggled because I had so many friends who knew what they wanted to do and they did it, but I felt like I had occupational ADHD. I didn't know what in the world my life was going to end up like. There were times of frustration and disappointment becuase I wasn't always able to use the things God gifted me with, but as I've grown into that, He has brought so many more opportunities my way," Finch said.
Even through his occasional disillusionment, Finch kept listening to the melody - the mission - God had given him.
Through the counsel of a friend from UMobile, Finch realized that he was trying to define his calling instead of letting his calling define him.
That's when Finch and his wife, Joy Baldwin Finch '04, decided to take a leap of faith. Though he continued in church ministry as a volunteer, Finch moved into full-time entrepreneurship, starting two businesses: Ben Finch Photography and The Visible Group: A Marketing & Design Firm.
"It made no sense whatsoever to the traditional mind. It was a touch economy and we had just had our first child, but it made us trust God when we wanted to trust ourselves," he said.
Making a Reinvestment
Soon thereafter, Finch's marketing and design firm led him back to the beginning of his career path - the University of Mobile.
After seeing some of Finch's work, Vice President for Institutional Advancement Brian Boyle scheduled a meeting to discuss a redesign of the school website, including its logos and brand identity. In the end, Boyle chose Finch's "Visible Group" to undertake the project.
"We were impressed with the creativity and quality that Ben brought to the project," Boyle said. "Beyond that, working with a graduate was a great experience. Ben understands what makes the university of Mobile special, and he has a real desire for other students to share that experience. The result is a website that reflects well on the university, and an updated logo and brand identity that is fresh and inviting to prospective students."
Finch was humbled by the opportunity. "I just wanted to be a small part of the difference that UMobile is making. I couldn't have chosen an organization more dear to my heart or one that I was more eager to reinvest back into. I love that UMobile is making such a difference in students' lives. My life is forever enriched by the impact the university has had on me, both personally and professionally."
Today, Finch's businesses are thriving. "I'm finally enjoying the career of my dreams. I'm connecting with people," through photography, the graphic arts, and various other communication outlets," he said.
In addition to a fulfilling career, the Finches have three children - Brennan, 3, Knox, 2, and newborn Molly Claire.
Finch is constantly finding new ways to influence others. In 2008, a journey to Israel yielded a collection of stunning photos that became his next published work, "Israel: A Photographic Journey." Today, his photography blog, benfinchphotography.net, reaches tens of thousands of people in almost 60 countries.
Looking Back, Moving Forward
Finch's far-reaching influence is rooted in deep faith that was cultivated at UMobile.
"The faculty was especially influential in their guidance through their teaching, and their classes played a big role in forming my beliefs. I was truly challenged in my faith and gained a solid grounding in the tenants of Christianity." he said.
The relationships he built at the university are still intact. "Many of my dearest friends are those I went to college with. I still talk to many of them on a regular basis," he said.
President Mark Foley even officiated the Finch's wedding ceremony. "Getting to know the Foleys was just a privilege," Finch said.
Through those relationships "and through many of my classes, God gave me a heart for people and the courage to share the Gospel with them," he said.
It's Finch's heart for people that motivates every step of his journey. Though his life has been full of unexpected changes and challenges, his story resounds to the tune of perpetual growth. Reflecting back on the day he nervously strummed his guitar in Weaver Auditorium, Finch said, "You're going to grow at UMobile."